Football

Ward: Pressure is all on Switzerland

       PLAY-OFF, 1ST LEG
NORTHERN IRELAND SWITZERLAND

Northern Ireland striker Jamie Ward heaped the pressure on Switzerland ahead of their World Cup play-off first-leg clash at Windsor Park tomorrow morning (Singapore time), saying the Swiss will be expected to win.

He said: "They're obviously the seeded team, so the pressure's more on them than us.

"We're always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded.

"If you're seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself."

While Michael O'Neill men might not be the favourites, striker Josh Magennis believes that no one underestimates Northern Ireland anymore.

He said: "We've got a fantastic base from the defence, probably most of our Premier League players play there so we know that a big part of our game comes from there, and we are able to break on the counter-attack and use set-pieces as well...

"We've proved all the doubters wrong and that doubting Northern Ireland is a thing of the past."

While Northern Ireland have been confounding doubters in recent times, reaching the Round of 16 at last year's European Championship in France, they have not qualified for the World Cup since 1986.

Switzerland, meanwhile, have been regulars at major tournaments, and since 2004, the only tournament they have missed out on is Euro 2012.

Vladimir Petkovic's team also features Premier League stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, and the likes of Ricardo Rodriguez of AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund custodian Roman Burki and Juventus' Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, have just four Premier League players in their ranks - West Bromwich Albion trio Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt and Gareth McAuley, as well as Southampton's Steven Davis.

Said Northern Ireland captain Davis: "They're (Switzerland) clearly very comfortable in possession. They like to build up from the back and play through the lines...

"They were very unfortunate not to qualify automatically for the World Cup.

"The biggest thing for us is going to be getting that balance right, between pressing and cutting off the lines for them to play through.

"If we can do that, we know we've got the quality to hurt them, and there are weaknesses we can exploit." - WIRE SERVICES

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