In the end, the only moment that separated Switzerland and Northern Ireland in their World Cup qualifying playoff was a dubious penalty call awarded to the Swiss in Belfast. Sunday’s return leg at St Jakob-Park in Basel ended in a 0-0 draw with the Irish again looking extremely limited going forward, but Switzerland were entirely wasteful as well, particularly forward Haris Seferovic.
The 1-0 lead earned on the road proved to be enough as Northern Ireland put five shots on target, one more than the hosts, but failed to find the equalizing goal. They came closest at the death when Jonny Evans had his header cleared off the line by first leg hero Ricardo Rodriguez.
Switzerland offered more quality throughout the 180 minutes of action, but that will prove of no solace to an Irish side that never actually had their staunch defense broken.
Arsenal and Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka told Northern Ireland to get over the penalty before the second match, but the grievances will only be aired more vociferously now.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s prematch claim of “It’s going to be a nice party when we qualify” ultimately rang true with the Irish left to wonder what might’ve been.
The Swiss became the first UEFA playoff participant to book their place in next summer’s event with Croatia expected to take care of business against Greece later today.