As much chance of jumping out of the way as the Giant’s Causeway

Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

THE (BAD) LUCK OF THE IRISH

Despite all Switzerland’s huffing and puffing on Thursday night, they seemed increasingly frustrated by their failure to blow Norn Iron 1-0’s Windsor Park fortress down. While enjoying 99% of the possession they seemed to be doing very little with it, so it was left to Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan to provide the vital assist that enabled them to leave Belfast with the precious away goal that separates the two sides before Sunday’s return leg.

Arguably Switzerland’s best player, Hategan had already proved instrumental in somehow failing to send off Fabian Schär for a scything fifth-minute challenge on Stuart Dallas. “So they think Miguel Britos’s challenge on Anthony Knockaert in Watford’s match against Brighton was bad,” the Swiss centre-back muttered to himself, before ordering Granit Xhaka to hold his beer. Later came the penalty, when Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled the ball when blocking a Xherdan Shaqiri pile-driver from point-blank range with the back of his shoulder, despite having both arms down by his sides and as much chance of jumping out of the way as the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns that comprise the Giant’s Causeway.

Still seething at the mere sight of the man in an expensive overcoat on Sky Sports Super Sundays, O’Ireland haven’t qualified for one since but will set about righting this grievous wrong over the next few days when they take on Denmark over two legs. In a difficult game to call, the one player on the field with a sprinkle of stardust in his boots could make all the difference and unfortunately for O’Ireland he happens to play for Denmark. “I think at some stage he might look back and realise that he hasn’t got everything out of the talent that he possessed, because he was naturally a really decent footballer, really decent,” said Martin O’Neill of Lord Nicklas Bendtner who, The Fiver hopes, will add to his list of career regrets by Tuesday.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Guardiolismo has ruined many Italian defenders a bit – now defenders know how to set the tone of play and they can spread the ball, but they don’t know how to mark. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. When I was young, we used to do drills to get a feel for the man you were marking. Nowadays, from crosses, Italian defenders – and I can only really talk for Italian defenders – don’t mark their man. It’s a great pity because we’re losing our DNA a bit and some of those characteristics which had made us excel in the world” – Giorgio Chiellini puts his union cap on, and puts the blame squarely on Pep for turning centre-backs into dithering wrecks in recent years.

Photograph: Maurizio Degl’Innocenti/AP

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