Tuesday 20 February 2018

Missing out on World Cup would be major disappointment for Switzerland - Berner

Bruno Berner spent five years in England with Blackburn and Leicester
Bruno Berner spent five years in England with Blackburn and Leicester

Northern Ireland's World Cup play-off opponents Switzerland would consider failing to reach Russia a "major disappointment", according to ex-Leicester defender Bruno Berner.

The Swiss had a 100 per cent record in the group stage before a 2-0 defeat to Portugal in their final qualifier last month saw them miss out on top spot on goal difference alone.

However, by securing one of the eight play-off spots available to group runners-up, they have a second shot in an all-or-nothing tie with Michael O'Neill's Northern Irish this week.

Northern Ireland view having such an opportunity to reach their first World Cup since 1986 as an achievement.

However, Berner, who won 16 caps for Switzerland and spent five years in England with Blackburn and Leicester, believes it would be a let-down were his country not to qualify for their fourth successive World Cup finals.

Asked whether it could be considered a disaster, Berner told Press Association Sport: "In a way, yes. They have nine wins in the group stage and have that experience.

"Disaster is maybe too strong but there would be major, major disappointment for sure.

"I can still feel that disappointment of not qualifying directly. It's very important that Switzerland quickly move on from winning nine games and not qualifying directly."

That potential psychological impact was an aspect that O'Neill latched on to as soon as the draw was made.

Berner, himself now a manager with Swiss third-tier leaders SC Kriens, has implored his countrymen to forget about their near miss.

"In football it's about momentum. (But) it doesn't matter what happened in the group stages, both teams have to be very focused on these two games," he added.

"It could be a mental issue - nine wins but they're not in Russia. I think Northern Ireland had a tougher group - Czech Republic, Norway, Germany - the opponents were stronger and that experience will help them mentally."

As well as the Portuguese, Switzerland's group featured Andorra, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Hungary.

Berner expects O'Neill's team to play "more direct, with more speed and more physicality" against a Swiss defence missing ex-Arsenal defender Johan Djourou through injury.

The first leg takes place in Belfast on Thursday before the return fixture in Switzerland three days later, and Berner has urged Swiss boss Vladimir Petkovic to be bold at Windsor Park.

"In my opinion in Portugal they were too deep and they played to the Portuguese's strengths," he said.

"Our strength in the last two years has been attacking and I didn't see that against Portugal. I hope, going to Belfast on Thursday, that Switzerland will not just sit back; hopefully they will be proactive, try to put Northern Ireland under pressure and try to create something.

"It will be a very tough place for them to play, the crowd will be behind Northern Ireland and there will be massive energy. If you sit back and wait and be organised, it won't be enough. We have to try to score a goal."

Press Association

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