Match ends, Switzerland 2, Northern Ireland 0.
Northern Ireland had Jamal Lewis sent off for time-wasting in the first half as a dramatic 2-0 defeat by Switzerland all but ended their World Cup qualification hopes.
The Newcastle United defender was shown a second yellow card in the 37th minute for taking too long over a throw-in.
Steven Zuber and Christian Fassnacht scored in stoppage time of each half for the hosts.
The second-placed Swiss are now six points ahead of NI in Group C.
After Bulgaria lost earlier on Saturday to Lithuania, the two sides went into the match in a battle for second place and the play-off place it secures, but the Swiss are now strong favourites to claim that slot with three qualification games left.
Lewis’s suspension will add to the long list of players Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough is without for Tuesday’s qualifier away to Bulgaria.
Switzerland’s opening goal came in the final second of the third minute of added time in the first half. A mix-up between Jordan Thompson and Craig Cathcart let Breel Embolo through and he fed Zuber, who slotted home well past Bailey Peacock-Farrell.
They wasted a number of good chances after the break as Northern Ireland’s 10 men tired, before Fassnacht sealed the victory by finishing unmarked from a good pass by Embolo.
The dramatic tone for the match had been set in the fourth minute as the hosts thought they had taken the lead through Denis Zakaria, but the goal was ruled out after a lengthy VAR review.
Just minutes later Northern Ireland’s lone frontman Conor Washington got through on goal but took the shot with his left foot and it was straight at goalkeeper Yann Sommer.
NI suffer again from referee’s decision against Switzerland
Few Northern Ireland supporters will have forgotten the penalty decision against Switzerland in the 2018 World Cup play-off first leg at Windsor Park, when a spot-kick was given against Corry Evans for handball when the ball looked very much like it struck his shoulder.
That penalty proved decisive over two legs and the red card shown to Jamal Lewis in the 36th minute of this match also had a hugely damaging impact on Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes.
The defender can have no complaints for his booking for a tug on Embolo, but rarely in a match at this level is a player shown a yellow card – and the red that came with this one – for time-wasting with almost 55 minutes of the match to play.
Replays showed that the ball was out of play for 23 seconds and, while the referee had spoken to the visiting players a few times beforehand about taking too much time, the look of shock and dismay on the faces of Lewis, his team-mates and the Northern Ireland bench could not have been stronger.
With Stuart Dallas switching to the left wing-back role occupied by Lewis, and Baraclough setting the side up in a 5-3-1 formation, the visitors responded well to going down to 10 men and continued to frustrate their hosts.
They came within seconds of making it without conceding to the interval, when they could have had a much-needed rest and regrouped. But when the goal went in, it felt increasingly like Northern Ireland’s chance of earning any sort of positive result had been dealt an almost knock-out blow.
Compact Northern Ireland frustrate Swiss after frantic start
Baraclough had a big decision to make when in-form Blackpool striker Shayne Lavery had to pull out of this qualifier double-header with injury ahead of the squad meeting up.
Lavery hurt the Swiss defence with his pace and strong running in the scoreless draw at Windsor Park in September, but his absence forced Baraclough to change the shape of his team to what almost looked like a somewhat surprising 3-4-2-1 formation, with Stuart Dallas and George Saville playing in behind Washington.
It looked as if Baraclough’s aim was to close the space through the middle of the pitch and, until the sending off changed the dynamic of the game, the tactic was working to a large extent, with the hosts enjoying a lot of possession without creating many clear-cut chances.
If Washington had taken his early chance it would have given his side something to cling to. But once the goal went in, 12 minutes after Lewis left the field, Northern Ireland’s chances of getting a much-needed point faded significantly.
Baraclough must lift his squad’s morale for the trip to Bulgaria. He said before this game that defeat would not mean the end of their World Cup hopes but, six points behind Switzerland with three matches to play, it will take a major turnaround now for Northern Ireland reach the finals.
- 2MbabuSubstituted forWidmerat 80′minutes
- 5AkanjiSubstituted forSchärat 53′minutes
- 6ZakariaBooked at 90mins
- 23ShaqiriSubstituted forSowat 90+2′minutes
- 14ZuberSubstituted forFassnachtat 81′minutes
- 7EmboloSubstituted forIttenat 90+2′minutes
- 21von Ballmoos
- 22BrownSubstituted forFergusonat 80′minutes
- 3LewisBooked at 37mins
- 14DallasSubstituted forBradleyat 86′minutesBooked at 88mins
- 15ThompsonSubstituted forJonesat 80′minutes
- 9WashingtonSubstituted forMagennisat 62′minutesBooked at 89mins
- Slavko Vincic
Second Half ends, Switzerland 2, Northern Ireland 0.
Corner, Switzerland. Conceded by Shane Ferguson.
Corner, Switzerland. Conceded by Craig Cathcart.
Hand ball by George Saville (Northern Ireland).
Substitution, Switzerland. Cedric Itten replaces Breel Embolo.
Substitution, Switzerland. Djibril Sow replaces Xherdan Shaqiri.
Goal! Switzerland 2, Northern Ireland 0. Christian Fassnacht (Switzerland) right footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by Breel Embolo following a fast break.
Offside, Switzerland. Fabian Schär tries a through ball, but Christian Fassnacht is caught offside.
Denis Zakaria (Switzerland) is shown the yellow card.
Josh Magennis (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Patrick McNair (Northern Ireland).
Conor Bradley (Northern Ireland) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Conor Bradley (Northern Ireland).
Attempt missed. Breel Embolo (Switzerland) right footed shot from the left side of the six yard box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri with a through ball.
Substitution, Northern Ireland. Conor Bradley replaces Stuart Dallas.
Attempt saved. Christian Fassnacht (Switzerland) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Ricardo Rodríguez.
Attempt blocked. Stuart Dallas (Northern Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.