BELFAST (Reuters) - Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic followed Germany’s example as his side refused to be bullied into submission by Northern Ireland in Thursday’s World Cup playoff first leg.
The Swiss comfortably took everything the hosts could throw at them as they won 1-0 albeit with a controversial Ricardo Rodriguez penalty on a wet evening in Belfast, putting them in the driving seat for Sunday’s return in Basel.
Petkovic was determined that his side avoided the fate of Norway and the Czech Republic, who both lost 2-0 in Belfast in their qualifying group after being stifled and pushed out of their stride by Northern Ireland’s aggressive style.
So he followed the example set by world champions Germany in a 3-1 win at Windsor Park last month and it paid off, even if Switzerland’s spot kick was harshly awarded as the ball appeared to hit Corry Evans on the shoulder rather than the arm.
“We did well defensively but the most important thing was that we pressed high up so they couldn’t play the ball out of defence and that made us dominant,” Petkovic told Swiss state broadcaster SRF.
“We tried to do the same as Germany did, by keeping possession and not allowing them any 50-50 balls which would have given them the chance to counter-attack and got the crowd going.”
It worked like clockwork as the Swiss enjoyed 63 percent of possession and prevented the hosts from getting a shot on target during a bruising match which produced 32 fouls.
The Swiss, edged out by Portugal on goal difference in their qualifying group, have now won 10 out of 11 games in their campaign for a place at next year’s World Cup in Russia.
Their only defeat came away to the Portuguese in their final group game, which cost them an automatic place at the finals.
“We must keep our feet on the ground,” added Petkovic. “I expect the game in Basel to be like this one, but we need to move forward faster and try more shots from long range.”
Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Ken Ferris