Nottingham Forest star Jamie Ward cranks up the pressure on Switzerland ahead of World Cup play-off


Jamie Ward has cranked up the pressure on Switzerland by telling them Northern Ireland will thrive as the underdogs in their World Cup play-off.

The Northern Irish missed out on being seeded for the draw last month by virtue of their world ranking, so knew they would face either the Swiss, Italy, Croatia or Denmark over two legs to determine their Russia fate.

Nottingham Forest forward Ward, back in Michael O’Neill’s fold for the first time since March having overcome a calf problem, had no qualms with that and has told Switzerland they have to handle the expectation.

Vladimir Petkovic’s team arrived in Belfast on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s first leg, and Ward said: “They’ve got to take their chances. Everyone is expecting them to win in the football world.

Northern Ireland coach Michael O’Neill shakes hands with Switzerland’s coach Vladimir Petkovic

“They’re obviously the seeded team, so the pressure’s more on them than us.

“We’re always great as the underdogs, so I think it was a bit of a bonus us not being seeded.

“If you’re seeded, you get a little more pressure on yourself so we’ll go into this game as underdogs again. Hopefully we can be worthy winners.

“We’d love something heading over there. I think we’re strong at home and you’ve seen that over the last few years.

“If we play the way we can play, I don’t see why we can’t take a lead out there or at least a positive result.”

Switzerland’s Bosnian coach Vladimir Petkovic takes his side to Belfast to face Northern Ireland on Thursday

Should O’Neill’s team find a way past the Swiss, they would end a 32-year exile from the World Cup finals and become the first Northern Irish side in history to make back-to-back major tournaments.

With Wales and Scotland already out of the running, and the Republic of Ireland involved in their own play-off, Ward feels the Northern Irish are still not getting the recognition they warrant.

Jamie Ward in action for Ireland

“I think people see it as it’s Northern Ireland and they’ve not done well for a long time, but on the other side they will go and buy players from the Republic squad,” he added.

Premier League clubs are happy to do that. We’re just as good as them, but it’s obviously someone taking a risk or a chance on us and letting us prove we’re worth playing at the next level.”

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