- Switzerland hoping to reach fourth consecutive World Cup
- Vladimir Petkovic's side face Northern Ireland in Russia 2018 play-off
- Xherdan Shaqiri: "We must prove that we deserve to be there"
Xherdan Shaqiri made a little bit of FIFA World Cup™ history at Brazil 2014. Finding the net three times against Honduras in Switzerland’s final group stage game, the explosive winger registered the 50th hat-trick in global finals history.
To date, Shaqiri’s goalscoring heroics at the Arena da Amazonia were the last time a player bagged a treble at the World Cup. Memories of that day in Manaus are still vivid in the mind of the Stoke City man.
"It’s quite some time ago but I remember it very well,” Shaqiri told FIFA.com. "A few days before playing Honduras, we lost 5-2 against France and we wanted to give a good reaction. It’s a difficult situation, but these are the moments leaders have to take on responsibility. I wanted to do that and I had some very good support from my team-mates in order to do so."
Present at the last three editions of the World Cup, Switzerland boasted nine wins from nine going into their final Group B matchday against Portugal. La Nati, however, suffered a 2-0 defeat in Lisbon at the final hurdle, being pipped by Cristiano Ronaldo and Co to top spot in UEFA's Group B on goal difference.
"We knew we were short of goals compared to Portugal and we were hoping they would end up drawing perhaps once or twice," Shaqiri said. "But Portugal also won nine games in a row and, more importantly, we must not forget that we did a lot of things right [in the qualifying campaign], except in one game. There is no reason for us to be too disappointed; we can hold our heads up high, fully focused on the play-off games."
Gunning for Russia
In order to book a Russia 2018 berth, Switzerland must overcome Northern Ireland over two legs in the European play-offs. After reaching the knockout stages in their maiden European Championship in France, Michael O’Neill’s side successfully carried that momentum into World Cup qualifying, finishing second in Group C behind world champions Germany.
"When it comes to the draw, you have to accept and respect any sort of challenge it brings," Shaqiri said. "Northern Ireland is the most difficult opponent that any of the four seeded nations could have been drawn against. Everybody is full of respect for them. It’s no secret their most important qualities are their physical power on the pitch, the structure of their game and their dangerous corners and free-kicks."
Up first for Switzerland is a trip to Belfast's Windsor Park on 9 November, before the return leg in Basel three days later. A key member of coach Vladimir Petkovic’s starting line-up, Shaqiri expects a tightly-contested encounter against a Northern Ireland side who have lost just one competitive home game in the last four years. But the 26-year-old believes La Nati have what it takes to reach a fourth consecutive World Cup.
"A play-off is a 50:50 game. It is going to be very level and nothing will be decided until the very last minute," Shaqiri said. "Having said that, I think it could be an advantage to play at home in the second game – in case of extra time, for example, and to hopefully have a World Cup qualification celebration party at home.
"We know that we somehow have to press the reset button and get ready to stand up to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park first," he continued. "Every single member of the Swiss team and staff wants to play at the World Cup in Russia. We know that we have the qualities to do so, but we must bring all our power on the pitch and prove that we deserve to be there."