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Saturday / November 17.

Switzerland reaches World Cup after 0-0 draw with Nothern Ireland

BASEL, Switzerland: Switzerland earned a spot at its fourth straight World Cup by holding Northern Ireland to a rain-soaked 0-0 draw on Sunday in a match that was preserved by a goal-line clearance in stoppage time.
Switzerland’s disputed penalty in the first-leg victory in Belfast made the difference and gave the Swiss a 1-0 aggregate victory.
In the final minutes on a muddy field in Basel, Switzerland defender Ricardo Rodriguez kicked a goal-bound header from Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans off the line after a corner.
Rodriguez scored the penalty on Thursday in the first leg, and it was Evans’ brother, Corey, who was whistled for handling the ball that led to it.
“It was a privilege to be their coach and manager tonight,” Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill said, calling his team’s exit “a devastating moment.”
“It was decided by a really poor decision and a penalty that should never have been,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill shared tearful embraces with some of his players at the final whistle, and a long hug with Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic.
The Swiss dominated much of the first half Sunday but wasted good scoring chances, with center forward Haris Seferovic most at fault.
A chilly, rain-soaked evening seemed ideal for the visitors to rise to the atmosphere created by their noisy fans. Conor Washington’s glancing header in the 54th minute came close to getting the goal that would have forced extra time.
With their spot in Russia secured, the 11th-ranked Swiss will be in the pot of second-seeded teams for the World Cup draw on Dec. 1 in Moscow.
Now the challenge for arguably Switzerland’s most talented team in decades is to go beyond the last 16 at a major tournament.
In the past five years, the Swiss impressed in qualifying but failed to beat the best teams they faced — France twice, Argentina and Poland — at the 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship.
Petkovic should have his best players at their peak in Russia.
At 26, Xherdan Shaqiri is heading to his third World Cup, while Granit Xhaka and Rodriquez, both 25 and playing for Arsenal and AC Milan, respectively, have matured as standouts from the 2009 Under-17 World Cup-winning team.
The urgency of the opening half hour in Basel, on a sodden surface that soon cut up, defied the often laborious first leg.
Within three minutes, Northern Ireland had been more threatening than in 90 in Belfast, and left back Chris Brunt sent a rising 30-meter (yard) shot that Switzerland goalkeeper Yann Sommer dived to push clear.
Brunt tested Sommer again in the 15th but the defender had rough spells at the other end as Switzerland raided its right wing.
Northern Ireland was lucky to level at halftime as rain poured down again. Blerim Dezmaili’s pass across the goalmouth almost forced an own-goal, Seferovic twice failed to get clear headers on target, and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Michael McGovern kept out low shots by Shaqiri and Steven Zuber.

via AN