Northern Ireland vs Switzerland - O'Neill urges players to have no regrets against Switzerland

Posted Thursday, November 09, 2017 by PA

Michael O'Neill senses Northern Ireland are ready to seize their moment having told his players to ensure they have no regrets in their World Cup play-off with Switzerland.

The Northern Irish are bidding to reach just their fourth global finals, and their first since 1986, when they meet the Swiss across a two-legged tie this week.

Whereas Switzerland have qualified for the previous three World Cups, numerous Northern Irish generations have never been to the tournament so O'Neill is wary of the magnitude of this tie for the entire country.

And he believes his team are ready to rise to the challenge.

"I see in this squad an opportunity they don't want to waste," O'Neill said.

"But equally they've done everything so far and I think they will do everything in the next two games to make it a reality.

"These players have experienced a lot of good and bad.

"The one thing I would say to them is don't fear the situation, embrace the situation and make sure whatever happens when you look back there are no regrets.

"We all know the prize is massive and what it means to everyone in Northern Ireland, the players, staff, Irish Football Association, everyone in Northern Ireland.

"Our focus is on how we get through the two games and I see a reassurance in the players and self-belief that has grown over a period of three to four years and put them in this position."

Former West Ham and Watford midfielder Valon Behrami is embroiled in a club-versus-country feud ahead of the play-off.

Behrami is in Belfast with the Swiss squad, and was involved in training on Wednesday evening, yet is considered "very unlikely" by boss Vladimir Petkovic to feature in either contest because of a hamstring injury.

His club Udinese have written to the Swiss national federation demanding he returns to Italy and have threatened legal action if he remains with Petkovic's squad and participates in either game.

Their gripe is that they were informed of Behrami's call-up 15 days before the first game, rather than 15 days before the national team first meet up, which is the protocol FIFA stipulates national federations must follow.

However, the Switzerland Football Association (SFV-ASF) has maintained it has operated such a system for the past 18 years and has never had any issue with Udinese when they have called up their previous players Silvan Widmer and Gokhan Inler within such a time frame.

"Behrami is here now and as far as we're concerned he's not going back," a SFV-ASF spokesperson said.

"Behrami told us he talked with his club coach and he had agreed he could leave for Switzerland. Petkovic said on Monday that we would never take any risk. We won't do any foolish things with the player.

"We have the impression that Udinese wants to fix on that (15 days) point because they have no rules that they can prevent the player from travelling to Switzerland.

"The rules are quite clear, we can insist on having the player with us.

"If we cannot agree with Udinese there will be some higher places for them to refer to. This is the FIFA disciplinary commission and if they want to judge the case we're ready to face the music."

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