After achieving the impossible to qualify for last year’s European Championship, Northern Ireland has a chance to repeat that feat in the qualification play offs for 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The first leg of the play off tie sees the Irish play hosts to Switzerland at Windsor Park as they seek to take an advantage into Sunday’s second leg.
Northern Ireland boss, Michael O’Neil has a tough decision to make regarding his frontline.
Nottingham Forest striker, Jamie Ward could make his first start since March, having overcome a calf injury.
He however faces competition from; Kyle Lafferty, Josh Magennis and Connor Washington.
Defensive duo, Aaron Hughes and Paddy McNair however have been passed fit but are likely to feature on bench, rather than in starting eleven.
Premier League stars, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka heads up a strong Swiss side featuring; Roman Burki, Stephan Lichtsteiner and former Watford player, Valon Behrami.
Route to Play Offs
|Northern Ireland||Qualification group Matchday||Switzerland|
|Czech Republic (a), D 0-0||1||Portugal (h), W 2-0|
|San Marino (h), W 4-0||2||Hungary (a), W 2-3|
|Germany (a), L 2-0||3||Andorra (a). W 1-2|
|Azerbaijan (h), W 4-0||4||Faroe Islands (h), W 2-0|
|Norway (h), W 2-0||5||Latvia (h), W 1-0|
|Azerbaijan (a), W 0-1||6||Faroe Islands (a), W 0-2|
|San Marino (a), W 0-3||7||Andorra (h), W 3-0|
|Czech Republic (h), W 2-0||8||Latvia (a), W 0-3|
|Germany (h), L 1-3||9||Hungary (h), W 5-2|
|Norway (a), L 1-0||10||Portugal (a), L 2-0|
Both teams have had strong runs in their groups to reach this play off.
Switzerland will be favourites here having won nearly all of their games. The fact that their only loss came in their last game could well play on their mind here against a team that only lost one home game in Group C.
In terms of goals, Switzerland will be dangerous, having netted 23 goals in Group B to the Norn Iron’s 16.
Ireland however are slightly stronger in defence, having conceded two less goals than the Swiss have done.
This will be a really tough fight for O’Neil’s men because Switzerland have so many goal scorers within their team.
Northern Ireland are likely to play a 4-4-1-1 formation with a flat back line.
If can keep that back solid and disciplined, they could well take this tie to Switzerland still alive.
The Swiss however could play as a 4-2-3-1 team, which will be tough because they’re more vulnerable to gaps than their hosts with that style.
Ultimately, the atmosphere at Windsor Park will drive the Irish to at least a draw, although Switzerland should bag an away goal.
Prediction: Northern Ireland 1-1 Switzerland
Result: Northern Ireland 0-1 Switzerland