Last updated & checked: 10/08/2021
One of the pivotal games in Group D takes place this Thursday evening with group favourites Switzerland landing in Dublin to take on Ireland. While it would be stretching things to call Mick McCarthy’s side “resurgent”, two wins against Gibraltar, one against Georgia and a draw in Denmark mean that they are unbeaten, and top of the group as of now. A win here would put the Irish in a very decent position for a top-two spot and a place at next summer’s tournament.
Switzerland will come here believing that they can get at least a point, and maybe all three. Often forgotten in any run down of the best sides in Europe, the Swiss topped their Nations League group ahead of Belgium, so they can clearly play a bit. They are, however, weakened somewhat by the absence of Liverpool midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, whose unpredictable magic on the ball often provides an extra dimension to a team that otherwise tends on the functional side.
Ireland vs Switzerland Prediction: Ireland 1-1 Switzerland
This is, let’s be honest, not likely to be much of an attraction to the neutral. Both of these sides are workmanlike, and there will be no shortage of players willing to take on the physical battle, but there’s very little pizzazz in either likely starting line-up. Ireland have selected four strikers for this match and the upcoming friendly with Bulgaria – in a combined 29 international caps, they have zero goals between them. Nonetheless, they tend to find the net when they play in Dublin, even if it is only once – their biggest challenge will be ensuring that Switzerland do not.
Our recommended tip: Draw
Mick McCarthy came into the Ireland job with one task above all others – bring some organisation to a national squad which, under Martin O’Neill, had occasionally seemed completely without direction or any plan. That’s something he’s achieved, and in drawing on Danish soil, they’ve shown that they can raise their level when it matters. Switzerland are so reliable at what they do that they could be used as a global measure for consistency – they’ll rarely hammer any opponent, but they’ll never get trounced either – and in Dublin, a draw would absolutely suit them, keeping them in a sound position to kick on and win the group. William Hill have priced that outcome at 21/10, which seems generous to us.
At the beginning of this century, these sides were quite well-acquainted. They met in qualification for Euro 2004 and for the 2006 World Cup. In the former campaign, Switzerland won at home and away, while the sides drew both games in the latter. More recently, they met in a friendly in March 2016 at this stadium. Ireland prevailed on the night, scoring in the second minute as Ciaran Clark headed in from a corner. Not a lot happened in the 88 minutes that remained, although Shane Long missed a late chance to make it 2-0.
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Players to watch: Jeff Hendrick & Fabian Schar
At 27 years of age, Jeff Hendrick has been a fixture in the Irish midfield for a few years now and tonight will celebrate his 50th cap for his country. The Burnley midfielder has brought up this milestone by virtue of his reliability at the hub of the team, working assiduously in defence and providing stability in possession. He can also fire in a decent long-range shot, too, and in a game which may be light on penalty-area openings he may well be the one to provide a breakthrough for Ireland and add to his two goals at this level.
While Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley finally opened the purse-strings in 2019, it’s a player who arrived for a relative pittance last summer who has been perhaps their standout performer over the last season and a bit. Schar, who is tireless in defence for both the Magpies and his national team, will provide a considerable obstacle for the Irish attackers. He’s also not afraid of getting forward, and is comfortable when he gets there, as his stunning 30-yard strike in February against Burnley showed.