World Cup play-offs: Northern Ireland drawn against Switzerland

Fernando Hierro
Former Spain, Real Madrid and Bolton defender Fernando Hierro conducted the draw in Zurich

Northern Ireland will play Switzerland in the World Cup play-offs as they aim to qualify for the tournament in Russia and a first finals since 1986.

Michael O'Neill's side will be home for the first leg on 9 November with the away leg in Basel three days later.

The Republic of Ireland have been drawn against Denmark, Italy will play Sweden while Croatia will face Greece.

Denmark will have home advantage against the Republic on 11 November before the return game on 14 November.

Northern Ireland boss O'Neill said: "The most important thing is we don't concede an away goal. We'll be prepared for Belfast. We've only lost one game there in four years.

"We knew it was going to be difficult. They've had a good campaign, but we have a big opportunity to get to Russia. We know we'll have to be at our best but we believe we're good enough to do that."

The teams in the play-offs are the eight best second-placed finishers from the nine European qualifying groups, with Denmark, Switzerland, four-time winners Italy and Croatia the seeds.

Northern Ireland finished second behind world champions Germany in Group C, while Switzerland lost to Portugal in their final group game to drop into the play-offs.

World Cup play-offs

The Republic of Ireland, who last reached the finals in 2002, are away in their first leg against Denmark, before the return match at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

They beat Wales in the final group game to reach the play-offs ahead of Chris Coleman's side, while the Danes finished behind Poland in their group.

Manager Martin O'Neill said: "Naturally, we're just pleased to be in the draw. Being unseeded means it was always going to be a difficult tie.

"If you ask most coaches, you want the second game at home. But with the rules like extra time, it gives the away team that chance to score in 120 minutes.

"We have momentum and that's important. We won our last two games to get here. I'm now concerned with the next couple of weeks and making sure my players don't get injuries at club level."

Italy finished second behind 2010 champions Spain, while Croatia were runners-up to Iceland and Sweden lost out to Belgium.

The World Cup will take place from 14 June to 15 July.

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Martin O'Neill

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