And an outsider emerges…
English commentator Ian Darke says the United States will talk to Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill regarding its vacant managerial spot.
Dave Sarachan is leading the USMNT for Tuesday’s friendly in Portugal, and the lack of competitive international fixtures for more than 600 days means U.S. Soccer needs not rush to find a boss.
[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose vs. Portugal ]
O’Neill, 48, was capped 31 times by Northern Ireland and played club for Newcastle United, Dundee United, Hibernian, and Wigan Athletic during a long and well-traveled playing career.
He managed Brechin City and Shamrock Rovers before taking the NI gig, leading the Norn Iron to an upset of Ukraine at EURO 2016 and a 1-0 knockout round loss to Wales. Northern Ireland finished second in its World Cup qualifying group, but lost an international playoff to highly-favored Switzerland 1-0 on an away goal (one that came from an awful penalty call).
That said, O’Neill still has limited experience in managing, and NI was blessed by favorable draws in EURO and World Cup qualifying. Marquee wins are few and far between, especially away from home, and NI does have some strong players in Steven Davis, Chris Brunt, Gareth McAuley, and Jonny Evans.
He also has a DUI in his background.
O’Neill might be a good choice, given his experience in rallying an underdog on the world stage. He’s certainly the right sort of guy to interview, so this is a promising sign. Most important in my book? He’s not Sam Allardyce.
The pitch was far from perfect on Sunday, but that didn’t for Switzerland.
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The Swiss became the 27th team to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia after settling for a 0-0 draw against Northern Ireland at St Jakob-Park.
Chances were at a minimum throughout the match, but the visitors nearly forced the game into extra time when Jonny Evans‘ close-range effort forced a goal-line clearance out of the Swiss back line.
The hosts came out strong in the second half, with Ricardo Rodriguez testing No. Ireland keeper Michael McGovern immediately after the halftime break.
Xherdan Shaqiri was a menace down the wing throughout the first half for the Swiss, testing McGovern on several occasions as well.
The Northern Irish nearly broke the deadlock just two minutes into the match when Chris Brunt unleashed a powerful effort from distance.
Three more European spots will be up for grabs in the coming days as the WCQ cycle rounds out.
If you take into account Xherdan Shaqiri‘s personality — bold and bombastic — as well as his playing style — mercurial and full of flair — it’ll come as very little surprise to you that Switzerland’s star man is already making plans for a big party back home “when [they] qualify” for the 2018 World Cup.
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Speaking after Thursday’s controversial 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland, a result which puts the Swiss 90 minutes from qualification to next summer’s tournament in Russia, the Stoke City winger stopped short of using words like “guarantee” or “promise,” but went so far as to call out the Northern Irish as second-best while playing on their home soil, and predict more of the same in the second leg when the two sides meet in Sunday’s second leg in Basel — quotes from the Guardian:
“It’s going to be a nice party when we qualify. We can celebrate but we have to do it. We have taken one step to the World Cup.”
“I think we had the ball for 90 minutes. We created more chances than them. They were only dangerous from corners and free kicks. It was not enough. It was a great result for us, the best we could get. They will have to play more offensively in Basel. They have to score to try to get to the World Cup.
“They played too defensively, they did not do enough to score, so they’re going to come to Basel and try to be more offensive, but that will mean it is more open for us. We will not sit back and relax, we are not a team that does that. We will try to keep the ball and make our game.”
Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill is feeling rightly aggrieved after his side’s World Cup hopes took a huge blow via a poor penalty call.
[ RECAP: N. Ireland 0-1 Switzerland ]
Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan called Corry Evans for a handball when Xherdan Shaqiri‘s shot was blocked by the leaping defender, who had his arm tucked into his body near the top of the 18.
Shaqiri admitted he “didn’t know if it was a penalty or not,” though most others will tell you it should not have been given. Ricardo Rodriguez converted the chance for the Swiss, who were better on the day, and the 1-0 tie heads to Basel on Sunday.
Here’s O’Neill, from the BBC:
“The referee has no-one in his line of sight. Corry’s arm isn’t in an unnatural position, it’s by his side. The ball hits him on the back more than anything. I thought the referee had blown for a foul or an offside. Nobody had claimed for it. I’m staggered by the decision, staggered by the yellow card.”
O’Neill said the players have to channel their visible anger from the dressing room into a performance in Switzerland. It’ll be hard, as stopping the Swiss attack requires complete defensive focus and the Norn Iron don’t have the hopes of 0-0 and penalties.
Opinion alert: An absolutely woeful decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan has put Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes in a bad place following a 1-0 loss at Windsor Park in Belfast.
[ MORE: N. Ireland reacts to PK ]
Xherdan Shaqiri had a chance to score just after the break, but a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty allowed the Swiss to take a lead moments later when Corry Evans leapt to block a shot and was adjudged to have it hit his arm. Personally, it looked a criminal call, but you be the judge.
Norn Iron manager Michael O’Neill would’ve been content to keep Switzerland off the board when it comes to away goals, but the result doesn’t change much for the Northern Irish; They’ll need to triumph in Basel for Sunday’s second leg.