Rodriguez is scourge of Northern Ireland

Left: Switzerland's players in a huddle after the final whistle to celebrate reaching next year's World Cup in Russia, having defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 on aggregate. Below: Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez clearing Jonny Evans' goal-bound header o
Switzerland's players in a huddle after the final whistle to celebrate reaching next year's World Cup in Russia, having defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 on aggregate. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Left: Switzerland's players in a huddle after the final whistle to celebrate reaching next year's World Cup in Russia, having defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 on aggregate. Below: Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez clearing Jonny Evans' goal-bound header o
Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez clearing Jonny Evans' goal-bound header off the line to keep his side in the lead. The full-back's solitary goal over two legs proved enough to secure his country's fourth straight Finals appearance.PHOTO: REUTERS

Full-back, who scored tie's only goal, makes crucial clearance to seal Switzerland's spot

BASEL (Switzerland) • Ricardo Rodriguez was eligible to play for Chile and on Sunday Northern Ireland might have been wishing that he had elected to.

For the second time in four days, the full-back proved decisive as Switzerland clinched a World Cup berth, winning their two-legged playoff tie 1-0 on aggregate.

Having converted the hugely controversial penalty which gave the Swiss a 1-0 win in Belfast on Thursday, he made a timely intervention in Basel which prevented the tie going into extra time.

Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer failed to cut out a corner, Jonny Evans beat his marker to the ball and headed towards goal only for Rodriguez, born in Zurich to a Spanish father and Chilean mother, to hook it off the line.

"He had two good games and he was in the right place at the right time," said Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic.

Northern Ireland, however, are still ruing the left-back's winner.

"Shafted is the only word for it," said midfielder Oliver Norwood of the decision by Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan to award Switzerland a penalty when Xherdan Shaqiri's volley struck Corry Evans on the shoulder from point-blank range.

"I will think about the penalty decision for years to come as it's the only goal between the two sides and it's knocked us out," he said.

His manager, Michael O'Neill, was also in little doubt over what cost Northern Ireland a place at their first World Cup Finals for 32 years.

"Ultimately we've gone out to a poor decision in the first leg," he told Sky Sports after the stalemate.

"If it wasn't for the penalty we'd be playing extra time. The players will be remembered for the performance tonight. It's a very sore way to lose. We have to move on."

Despite the controversy, which saw Evans apologise for his wife's rant on Twitter in which she called the referee a "Romanian gypsy", Switzerland were the better side over the two legs.

O'Neill's team failed to register a shot on target at Windsor Park, where they had just 36 per cent of the ball. On Sunday, they were more adventurous, but were indebted to goalkeeper Michael McGovern for saves from Steven Zuber and Breel Embolo. Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic's wastefulness in front of goal also ensured a goal-less encounter.

"Everyone said it was almost done, but against teams like that it's a fight. I'm very excited we've achieved our goal," goalkeeper Yann Sommer told TV channel RTS after Switzerland booked their fourth straight Finals berth.

"It's unfortunate that we were not more efficient because it would have been easier."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2017, with the headline 'Rodriguez is scourge of Northern Ireland'. Print Edition | Subscribe