Northern Ireland’s hopes of reaching next year’s World Cup were dealt a heavy blow with a controversial first-half red card playing its part in a 2-0 loss to Switzerland.
Ian Baraclough’s men now sit six points adrift of second place in Group C with three matches to play, including a showdown with Euro 2020 winners Italy in their final qualifying game, but could feel aggrieved about the manner with which their World Cup 2022 hopes were dealt a potentially fatal blow.
Only 37 minutes in and with the scores goalless, Jamal Lewis was shown a second yellow card for time-wasting at a throw-in, a decision dubbed “shambolic” by former Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon, and when reduced to 10 men the visitors looked incapable of dealing with their hosts.
So it proved 45 seconds before half-time when Craig Cathcart was caught in possession on the half-way line, and in a flash Switzerland were ahead. Breel Embolo intercepted before feeding Steven Zuber, who emphatically beat Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
It needed the Sheffield Wednesday loanee to be at his best to keep Northern Ireland in the game after the break, although they never came close to threatening a goal themselves after Conor Washington’s first-half effort had been kept out with the scores goalless.
Forced to push more and more bodies forward to keep their qualifying hopes alive Northern Ireland’s dreams were dashed further in second-half stoppage time, as Embolo again turned provider for substitute Christian Fassnacht to finally put the result beyond all doubt.
More to follow…