Northern Ireland will be going all out for a “positive result” against Switzerland when the teams meet in a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualifier at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park tonight.
Ian Baraclough, the Northern Ireland manager, would dearly love to register a win against the Swiss, who are currently lying second in European Qualifying Group C behind European champions Italy after securing two wins and a draw in their three qualifiers to date.
His team have four points so far from three Group C matches but could leapfrog both the Swiss and Bulgaria - third with five from five - in the table if they win in Belfast (7.45 start).
“I believe a positive result tonight against a very strong Swiss team is required to really put us in the hunt,” he says in the matchday programme for the game.
The 4-1 Group C win over Lithuania last week has put Northern Ireland’s qualification campaign back on track following the defeat to Italy and draw against Bulgaria back in the spring.
Baraclough says he is confident his side can maintain the momentum derived from the win against the Lithuanians and the 1-0 friendly win against Estonia in Tallinn on Sunday.
He further points out: “Prior to the Lithuania game I urged the younger players in particular to show their mettle – and they certainly did that. And each and every one of the players selected to face Switzerland will also be asked to perform at the top of their game. If they can do that then I believe we can get the desired result tonight.”
The starting eleven is expected to be along similar lines to the one that took to the 3G against Lithuania in Vilnius.
Switzerland come in to the game after dropping points against Italy on Sunday. The tussle between the top seeds in the group ended scoreless in Basel.
The Swiss, who are ranked in Europe’s Top 10 national teams and reached the last eight at Euro 2020, will be without the influential Granit Xhaka, the pocket rocket that is Xherdan Shaqiri and the pacey Breel Embolo, who are missing for various reasons.
However, their team is still packed with players who operate in the top flights of Europe’s best leagues, from the Bundesliga to Ligue 1 and from Serie A to Primeira Liga.
Benfica striker Haris Seferovic, who has been in good goalscoring form lately, is expected to lead the line in Belfast. He has netted five goals for his country this year, including three at UEFA Euro 2020.
And pulling the strings in midfield will be Eintracht Frankfurt playmaker Steven Zuber. He brings real creativity to the side; he made more assists at UEFA Euro 2020 (four) than any other player.
Meanwhile, Ian Baraclough is hoping a raucous home support will give his players a massive lift as they go in search of a positive result against Switzerland.
“Both myself and the players are thrilled that the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park will be almost full for this game,” he says in the programme.
“We have badly missed the vocal support of the Green and White Army over the past year and I can’t wait to lead my team out into the stadium in front of 16,000 fervent supporters. I have not experienced that as Northern Ireland manager before and it will be a proud moment for me.”