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Evans suspension paves way for Saville in Northern Ireland’s World Cup decider

George Saville

George Saville has earned his three Northern Ireland caps so far as a substitute

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Millwall midfielder George Saville is set to make his first start for Northern Ireland in Sunday’s World Cup play-off second leg in Switzerland.

Switzerland are well placed to progress to Russia 2018 after winning Thursday’s first leg in Belfast 1-0.

Corry Evans is suspended after being booked following the highly controversial decision to award the penalty which Ricardo Rodriguez scored.

Referee Ovidiu Hategon decided that Evans had handled inside the area.

Replays showed that the ball struck strike the Blackburn Rovers midfielder on the back of the shoulder but Evans received his second booking of the campaign, automatically ruling him out of the return leg in Basel.

Saville was called up to the senior squad for the first time in September and made substitute appearances in Group C games against Germany and Norway, as well as in the first-leg play-off defeat.

The 24-year-old qualifies to play for Northern Ireland through his grandmother, who is from Enniskillen.

Stuart Dallas is expected to miss the game after being forced to come off injured on Thursday, while Kyle Lafferty may have to settle for a place on the bench after operating in a lone striker role at Windsor Park.

The Hearts striker has gone nine internationals without a goal, his last coming in a 4-0 home victory over Azerbaijan 12 months ago.

Northern Ireland face a major battle to pull back their deficit at St Jakob’s Park in Basel, a ground at which only England have beaten Switzerland in a 17-game run stretching back to 2001.

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World Cup play-off: O’Neill & Davis call for NI improvement in Basel

Ward and Washington tipped for starts

Nottingham Forest’s Jamie Ward and QPR striker Conor Washington both impressed as substitutes on Thursday and could be in line for starting places in Switzerland.

Ward missed the latter stages of the group qualifiers because of a calf injury, but the forward scored when he last started in a 2-0 home win over Norway in March. He has only recently returned to action for his club.

Goalkeeper Michael McGovern, defender Jonny Evans and captain Steven Davis have played every minute of the campaign so far and their contributions are again expected to be vital on Sunday.

If Northern Ireland side fail to make the finals, speculation is likely to intensify about the future of boss Michael O’Neill, who has been one of the names linked with the vacant Scotland managerial position.

Veteran defenders Aaron Hughes and Gareth McAuley would be expected to call time on their international careers, with Chris Brunt, who made his debut against the Swiss in 2004, possibly doing likewise.

Northern Ireland are aiming to qualify for a first World Cup since 1986 and only the fourth in their history, and also compete in back-to-back major tournaments for the first time.

In contrast, Switzerland have played in 10 World Cups, including the past three tournaments, and are three-times quarter-finalists.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side have won 13 of their past 17 matches and are 11th in the Fifa rankings, 12 places above their play-off opponents.

Switzerland only missed out on an automatic place in Russia because they lost their final group game to Portugal, having won all nine of their previous qualifiers.

The hosts are again set to be without Udinese midfielder Valon Behrami and ex-Arsenal defender Johan Djourou, who are both injured.

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