Swiss full back Rodriguez proves the scourge of Northern Ireland

Reuters
Having converted a controversial penalty which gave the Swiss a 1-0 win in Belfast on Thursday, Rodriguez made a timely intervention which prevented the tie going into extra time.
Reuters
Reuters

Northern Ireland’s Stuart Dallas (front) in action with Switzerland’s Ricardo Rodríguez during their World Cup playoff second leg at St Jakob-Park Stadium in Basel, Switzerland, on November 12, 2017.

Switzerland full back Ricardo Rodriguez was also eligible to play for Chile and Northern Ireland might have been wishing on Sunday that he had.

For the second time in four days, Rodriguez proved decisive as Switzerland clinched their two-leg playoff tie 1-0 on aggregate.

Having converted the hugely controversial penalty which gave the Swiss a 1-0 win in Belfast on Thursday, Rodriguez made a timely intervention which prevented the tie going into extra time.

Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer failed to cut out a corner, Jonny Evans beat his marker to the ball and headed towards goal only for Rodriguez, born in Zurich to a Spanish father and Chilean mother, to hook it off the line.

The set-ball specialist is one of Europe's top left backs although he currently finds himself in a struggling AC Milan side and had the misfortune to give away a decisive penalty when the team lost the Milan derby last month.

"He had two good games and he was in the right place at the right time," said Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic, using his words sparingly as usual.

Petkovic said he was proud of his players although he was not so happy when misfiring forward Haris Seferovic was jeered off the field by a section of the home crowd.

"It's a shame," said Petkovic. "We should learn from the Northern Ireland supporters who continued supporting their team all the time, even though they were behind."

"That's not to say that our fans didn't support us, but we need their backing for the whole 90 minutes."

The Swiss players were relieved to have finished a 12-match campaign which featured 10 wins, one draw and a single defeat, away to European champion Portugal in their final group match

"The best moment was the final whistle," said team captain Stephan Lichtsteiner. Asked to analyze the game, midfielder Granit Xhaka said: “Nobody is interested in how the game went.”

Spirited second half

Northern Ireland coach Michael O'Neill said his team's exit after a spirited second half on Sunday was "a devastating moment", The Associated Press reported

"It was decided by a really poor decision and a penalty that should never have been," he said, 25 minutes after the final whistle. "We should still be playing extra time now."

"It was a privilege to be their coach and manager tonight," said O'Neill, who shared tearful embraces with players at the final whistle.

With their spot in Russia secured, the Swiss enter the pot of second-seeded teams for the World Cup draw on December 1 in Moscow.

Now the challenge for arguably its 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.

"We don't really set limits for us. It could be even to the final," said Petkovic, who should have his best players at their peak in Russia.

At 26, Shaqiri is heading to his third World Cup, while Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and Rodriguez are both 25 and have matured as standouts from the 2009 Under-17 World Cup-winning team.

All three now have at least 50 international appearances. None had been born the last time Northern Ireland played at a World Cup, in 1986.


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