WORLD CUP PLAY-OFF: 'Northern Ireland are better prepared than the Swiss' - insists Lafferty

Sheffield United's Danny Lafferty is delighted to be involved in Northern Ireland's preparations for the two legged World Cup play-off against Switzerland.
Sheffield United's Danny Lafferty is delighted to be involved in Northern Ireland's preparations for the two legged World Cup play-off against Switzerland.

DANNY Lafferty reckons Northern Ireland are better prepared than their Swiss opponents for Thursday night's FIFA World Cup play-off first leg at Windsor Park.

Switzerland are the highest ranked team in the play-offs and arrived in Belfast today (Tuesday) as firm favourites to book their place on the plane to Russia in 2018.

However, former Derry City defender, Lafferty believes Michael O'Neill's men are in a better position going into Thursday night's crunch clash, having had an extra couple of days to prepare.

"I think possibly we're better prepared for Thursday's game than the Swiss are," said Lafferty, who was 'delighted' to be recalled into O'Neill's 27 man squad for the double header.

"They've got players scattered all over Europe and have just finished their club football on Saturday or Sunday and gathered in Switzerland from all over Europe. They've had two days training behind them before flying to Northern Ireland to stay a night here and play a game here.

"Whereas we've been together since Sunday afternoon. So we're probably in a more well equipped position as regards preparation in comparison to them.

"We've also read quotes from their manager (Vladimir Petković) who said stuff in the media that ideally he'd like to be preparing for a friendly this time as they're still hurting from not qualifying and complaining about FIFA staging the game on a Thursday which didn't help their preparation. So I suppose that's kind of positives in our favour."

Regardless, the odds are heavily stacked against Northern Ireland as they look to reach a first World Cup Finals since 1986. Despite the pressure and the rewards at stake for the winner, Lafferty claims the mood in the camp is 'relaxed'.

"It doesn't feel any different to previous games in the group stages," he explained. "It's been treated the same as any other. Obviously everyone is aware of what's at stake but there's still a lot of relaxation.

"There's been meetings and doing work on Switzerland but we've been treating it like we've treated the previous 10 games in the group. Hopefully we can get a good result on Thursday night and something we can take to Basel.

"Everyone can relax because there's not really any expectation on us. Michael always gets his point across in the lead up to the games, the way he prepares us, how he sets the team up and how he wants us to play and knowing what we're good at and what the opposition aren't so good at and try to exploit that.

"That's what we'll be trying to do on Thursday night and Sunday. We're aware of their threats and it's about trying to isolate those and tactically stop their big players like Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and Haris Seferovici, they have got good players who play across Europe and some in the Premier League.

"They had an excellent qualifying campaign and were unlucky not to get automatic qualification. They achieved 27 points in qualification and just missed out on head-to-heads or goal difference to the Portuguese.

"It's about keeping the tie alive and if we can take something to Switzerland it will be an unbelievable achievement."

The Sheffield United left back has been handed a welcome recall to O'Neill's squad and while he acknowledges that he's very much on the periphery, he insists he will be ready should he be called upon.

"I'm delighted to be named in the squad," said Lafferty. "Obviously it's the largest squad Michael's named with 27 players but even just leading up to these games and having been involved in previous games, it's great to be back amongst it all.

"I am happy to be about the squad again," he added. "I was out of it for a while and then moved to Sheffield United and got a bit more game time. The squad, quality-wise has increased since the first time I came onto the scene for Northern Ireland.

"The standard has been brilliant and with the qualification for the Euros and the successful campaign in the World Cup qualifiers it's become a very competitive squad. It's a hard squad, never mind a hard team, to get into, starting XI wise. I'm happy to come over here training and being amongst it all and try and do what I can on the training pitch.

"Hopefully I can leave a good impression with Michael and when I do go away I train well and apply myself well and if needed I'm here."

Playing at a World Cup Finals is every footballer's dream and Lafferty is no different. He's hoping his teammates can produce the goods and deliver what would be regarded as a shock result against the Swiss.

Should they make the Finals, Lafferty insists he will do everything in his power to keep himself on O'Neill's radar.

"When I go away I try and do as well as I can in front of the manager. Hopefully I can cement my place and if things are going well this week and we get the results, then hopefully that will bode well for me in the forthcoming months to push for a place in the plane to Russia."