BASEL, Nov 13: Switzerland full back Ricardo Rodriguez was also eligible to play for Chile and Northern Ireland might have been wishing on Sunday that he had.
For the second time in four days, Rodriguez proved decisive as Switzerland clinched their two-leg playoff tie 1-0 on aggregate.
Having converted the hugely controversial penalty which gave the Swiss a 1-0 win in Belfast on Thursday, Rodriguez made a timely intervention which prevented the tie going into extra time.
Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer failed to cut out a corner, Jonny Evans beat his marker to the ball and headed towards goal only for Rodriguez, born in Zurich to a Spanish father and Chilean mother, to hook it off the line.
The set-ball specialist is one of Europe’s top left backs although he currently finds himself in a struggling AC Milan side and had the misfortune to give away a decisive penalty when they lost the Milan derby last month.
“He had two good games and he was in the right place at the right time,” said Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic, using his words sparingly as usual.
Petkovic said he was proud of his players although he was not so happy when misfiring forward Haris Seferovic was jeered off the field by a section of the home crowd.
“It’s a shame,” said Petkovic. “We should learn from the Northern Ireland supporters who continued supporting there team all the time, even though they were behind.”
“That’s not to say that our fans didn’t support us, but we need their backing for the whole 90 minutes.”
The Swiss players were relieved to have finished a 12-match campaign which featured 10 wins, one draw and a single defeat, away to European champions Portugal in their final group match
“The best moment was the final whistle,” said team captain Stephan Lichtsteiner. Asked to analyze the game, midfielder Granit Xhaka said: “Nobody is interested in how the game went.”
CROATIA BOOKS THEIR PLACE
Croatia clinched a place in next year’s World Cup on Sunday after holding Greece to a goalless draw to complete a 4-1 aggregate victory in their playoff tie.
Having done the hard work four days ago by triumphing in the first leg in Zagreb, Zlatko Dalic’s team finished the job comfortably against a much-improved Greek team, who were full of attacking intent and tenacious tackling.
Despite the home side’s brave efforts, however, it was Croatia who came closest to scoring with Ivan Perisic hitting the post in the first half as the visitors qualified with ease for the showpiece in Russia.
No team has overturned a 4-1 first leg deficit at this stage, while the Croatians have now not lost a major tournament playoff match on any of their five occasions.
There were some flashes of danger from Michael Skibbe’s Greece side. However, despite having more possession, chances were few and far between and they failed to test Croatian goalkeeper Danijel Subasic until the 87th minute with Panagiotis Tachtsidis having his shot saved.
Skibbe shuffled his pack considerably, making six changes after their poor performance in the first leg – three of those came in defence with Giannis Maniatis, Giorgos Tzavellas, and Kyriakos Papadopoulos replaced by fit-again captain Vasilis Torosidis, Kostas Manolas and Panagiotis Retsos.
The changes, coupled with a vociferous home crowd inside the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium, seemed to work as the hosts looked more competitive, tenacious in the tackle and chasing every lost cause.
For all Greece’s enthusiastic and energetic play, however, Croatia always looked threatening when they managed to get forward, with Perisic, Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic all causing problems with their movement and slick passing.
Inter Milan midfielder Perisic came closest to a goal when his fierce shot cannoned off Orestis Karnezis’ left post with the Greek goalkeeper well beaten just before half-time.
Greece continued to try and chip away at Croatia but apart from Tachtisidis’ shot, the visitors held on comfortably to ease through. AGENCIES