5 Switzerland players who Northern Ireland have to be wary of

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka

Northern Ireland’s momentous double header with Switzerland may be the closest match to call in the World Cup play-offs.

Michael O’Neill’s men have the fortress Windsor Park and the Green and White Army on their side but this is a Swiss team which won nine of their ten qualification matches, losing out to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal on goal difference.

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The good news is that Switzerland don’t have an obvious star, but under manager Vladimir Petkovic they have a well-drilled and competent squad.

Yann Sommer - Goalkeeper

The 28-year-old had to bide his time while the arguably less-talented Diego Benaglio was number one. Sommer is agile, quick and confident. A modern day goalkeeper who is as comfortable away from his line as he is on it.

Stoke City's Xherdan Shaqiri

He was bought by Borussia Moenchengladbach from Basel in his native Switzerland to replace Barcelona-bound Marc-Andre ter Stegen in 2014. Sommer even has his own food blog.

Ricardo Rodriguez - Full-back

The AC Milan defender could have played for both Spain (his father) or Chile (his mother) but opted for the country of his birth. Rodriguez has made the left-back spot his own, providing drive from deep, while being strong physically.

Coupled with Juventus full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, the 25-year-old offers width and power, meaning Northern Ireland’s wide men will have to be switched on to their forward advances. The players netted five goals between themselves in qualifying.

Granit Xhaka - Midfielder

For some, he was the answer to Arsenal’s midfield issues. It hasn’t quite turned out that way at the Emirates but he continues to be an influential mainstay in the Swiss midfield, wearing the number 10.

He appears more comfortable in his Swiss surroundings, providing steel but, more than brawn, he offers brains with his creative and intelligent passing from deep, helping Switzerland play through the lines. He will need to be shut down to prevent him finding gaps behind the Northern Ireland midfield.

Xherdan Shaqiri - Playmaker

One of the memorable moments of Euro 2016 was the diminutive creator’s overhead kick against Poland. This is a special player who can provide a moment of genius out of nothing.

The Stoke City player plays from the right - emphasis on ‘from’. He is capable of using a piece of skill or his power to go by the full-back down the line but is most dangerous moving onto his left-foot where he can be lethal from around the edge of the box.

Breel Embolo - Striker

The powerful 20-year-old is Switzerland’s next great hope. He was handed his first-team debut at Basel four weeks after turning 17 and would go on to make 94 appearances before a big money move to Schalke 04.

It has not gone so well in Germany, playing only ten games last season before an injury ended his campaign in October. However, he has returned to fitness and brings an extra dimension to the Swiss attack. He could prove to be a wildcard from the bench against the ageing legs of Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley.

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