Switzerland kept their word and thanked Northern Ireland for helping them to reach the World Cup – by sending the team chocolate.

In one of the sweeter football stories of the week, Switzerland posted a video to social media on Wednesday showing head coach Murat Yakin boxing up some confectionery treats to send to Belfast.

It was their way of showing their gratitude for Northern Ireland's goalless draw with Italy in the final round of European World Cup qualifying group games, a result that, combined with Switzerland's 4-0 win over Bulgaria, saw Yakin's men seal their place at Qatar 2022.

Ian Baraclough's side are to receive 9.3 kilograms of Swiss chocolate in recognition of preventing the European champions from scoring for 93 minutes.

Switzerland had previously promised a gift after initially paying tribute in their post-match celebrations at the team hotel in Lucerne, where they sung Sweet Caroline, the 1969 Neil Diamond hit that has become a staple song at Northern Ireland matches.

The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists drew 1-1 with Italy in their penultimate qualifier, in which Jorginho missed a 90th-minute penalty for the Azzurri. That result ensured they were able to finish two points clear at the top of Group C after the final round of games.

Italy, meanwhile, must now contend the play-offs alongside teams including Portugal, Sweden, Wales and Russia. The draw for the semi-finals takes place on Friday.

Roberto Mancini is "sure" European champions Italy will qualify for the 2022 World Cup following their 1-1 draw against Switzerland.

Top spot in Group C will be decided in the final round of games after Jorginho missed a late penalty for Euro 2020 winners Italy in Rome on Friday.

Italy fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer strike after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

The Azzurri – who failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia three years ago – had a glorious chance to seize control on the road to Qatar 2022, however, Jorginho skied his 90th-minute spot-kick over the crossbar.

Automatic qualification is in the balance, though Italy have a slightly better goal difference, so they only need to match Switzerland's final-game result to finish top of the pool and condemn Murat Yakin's men to the play-offs in March and head coach Mancini remains confident.

"They are sorry, it's normal," Mancini told reporters, with Italy to visit Northern Ireland on Monday as Switzerland host Bulgaria.

"And then a penalty like that in the 90th minute, it's clear that they are sorry but nothing can be done now. We will get to the World Cup, I'm sure."

Italy boss Mancini added: "It's complicated but we are two goals ahead. We have to go there, try to play our game and win and hope that Bulgaria will have a great game.

"We have to play our game and win, this is our task. Right now, we must recover our energy, it was a very tough game. We need to be confident, even when things don't seem to go well, they can change.

"The team always try to do their best, in some moments of the season the players struggle more and the many injuries are a demonstration of this.

"Two goals are two goals; they seem like nothing but they are two goals… and then who says that Bulgaria cannot get a positive result? We are slightly ahead, now we are thinking about winning in Northern Ireland."

Italy captain Leonardo Bonucci has backed Jorginho to remain on penalty duties despite the midfielder's potentially costly miss in Friday's 1-1 draw with Switzerland.

Jorginho fired over the bar from 12 yards in the 90th minute after Ulisses Garcia was adjudged to have nudged over fellow substitute Domenico Berardi inside the box.

The Chelsea man has now missed three penalties in a row for Italy – one against England in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out and two against Switzerland in World Cup 2022 qualifying.

That follows a run of six successful spot-kicks on the spin, and skipper Bonucci is happy for Jorginho to take Italy's next penalty.

"He is our penalty taker and will continue to be," Bonucci told Rai Sport. "Four months ago he scored the decisive penalty against Spain that took us to the Euros final.

"We all make mistakes. Now we must look ahead to our next game if we are to reach the World Cup."

 

Jorginho's miss came after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had cancelled out fellow right-back Silvan Widmer's drive in a gripping first half at Stadio Olimpico.

Italy would have moved three points clear of Switzerland at the top of Group C had Jorginho converted, but instead they remain level on points with their opponents.

Azzurri goalscorer Di Lorenzo joined Bonucci in defending Jorginho's recent record from the spot.

"He may have missed his last three, but he is a great champion and he's our penalty taker," Di Lorenzo told Rai Sport. "We will all support him to get through this moment."

Italy have a slightly superior goal difference to Switzerland, meaning they only have to match Murat Yakin's side's scoreline in the final round of games if they are to qualify automatically for Qatar 2022 and avoid the play-offs.

European champions Italy travel to Northern Ireland on Monday, while Switzerland are at home to Bulgaria in their concluding qualifier.

Despite his side having won just two of their six matches since lifting the European Championship trophy, Roberto Mancini is confident his side can complete the job in Belfast.

"Against Northern Ireland we start with an advantage, and it's not a small one," Mancini said. "If we play well and score the goals we didn't score today...

"It was a difficult game and we were impacted by the goal we conceded. It's a shame that we didn't score in the second half."

Northern Ireland have not conceded in any of their three home qualifiers this campaign, but Gianluigi Donnarumma insisted his side will head to Windsor Park with the mindset of scoring goals.

"It's normal to be angry, but we don't worry too much because in a few days there is another important match," he said. "We need to recharge our energy immediately and we will be ready to have a great match and win.

"We will head into the next game with the right mentality that is needed to win the match and go to the World Cup. Right now we have to think only about winning and about ourselves.

"We will see what happens in the other match in the group afterwards. We have to think about winning and scoring a few goals. Then we will see what happens."

Jorginho missed a late penalty as Italy were held to a 1-1 draw by Switzerland in Friday's eventful contest at Stadio Olimpico, leaving both sides' automatic qualifying hopes for the 2022 World Cup in the balance. 

There was nothing to separate the teams at the top of Group C in terms of points accrued heading into the contest and that is how it remained after a gripping 90 minutes in Rome. 

The Azzurri fell behind to a powerful Silvan Widmer drive after 11 minutes but hit back through fellow right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo's header before half-time. 

European champions Italy had a glorious chance to win the game in the 90th minute and take control at the summit, but Jorginho skied his spot-kick to set up a tense final round of fixtures. 

Late stand-in Liudmila Samsonova produced a mesmerising fightback to beat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and clinch the Billie Jean King Cup for the Russian Tennis Federation.

After Daria Kasatkina swept to a 6-2 6-4 win over Jil Teichmann to put the Russians ahead against Switzerland, Samsonova produced a high-quality performance to win 3-6 6-3 6-4 against Bencic.

It meant there was no need for a doubles decider, with the Russian squad taking the match 2-0.

Samsonova had not expected to be involved in the singles contest in Prague, but a knee problem forced Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to pull out just minutes before Saturday's final got under way, forcing Russian captain Igor Andreev into a reshuffle.

A worthy substitute, Samsonova is ranked 40th in the world, while Bencic sits at number 17, and this win was the Russian's third victory in three meetings this year with the Tokyo 2020 gold medallist.

One of those came in the final of the Berlin grass-court tournament, and the 22-year-old was not over-awed by another big occasion this time.

Just as she did in Berlin, Samsonova lost the opening set but then dominated, and by doing so she secured a fifth Russian triumph in this team competition, previously known as the Fed Cup.

Samsonova said: "I have too many emotions now. It's unbelievable. I'm unbelievably happy. It was an incredible fight. It was a more nervous game. It was more than tennis."

Andreev spoke of the strong bond in his squad, saying: "It's an historical win for us. It's been a long time without any trophies in team tennis. I'm very proud and very happy for the girls, the way they played.

"They're amazing, they're heroes, and they achieved this because they're a team – a real team – and real friends."

Russia dominated this event from 2004 to 2008, winning four of five titles, while Switzerland had only previously been to one final, when Martina Hingis and Patty Schynder were outmatched by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Conchita Martinez in the 1998 showpiece.

Switzerland have praised Xherdan Shaqiri for his behaviour after an intruder appeared in a television interview and draped the Lyon star in a provocative jacket.

Shaqiri was conducting post-match media duties on the pitch following his side's 2-0 win over Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying in Geneva.

A man approached the former Liverpool player and put a coat around his shoulders that bore the symbol of the UCK, or Kosovo Liberation Army, a militia that fought for Kosovan independence from Yugoslavia and Serbia.

Shaqiri, who is of Kosovo-Albanian descent, promptly removed the garment and placed it out of sight of the camera before continuing his interview.

The incident caused uproar in Serbia, with newspaper Kurir describing it as a "scandalous scene" and calling on UEFA to act.

In a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday, the Swiss Football Association (SFV) said: "It is unacceptable that people want to use football stadia, and in this case a player's interview after a match, for political propaganda purposes.

"Xherdan Shaqiri reacted in an exemplary manner, stayed calm and did not react.

"The man was questioned by police and an immediate stadium ban was imposed on him."

Shaqiri and team-mate Granit Xhaka were fined 10,000 Swiss francs at the 2018 World Cup after celebrating goals in a 2-1 win over Serbia by making a double-headed eagle gesture.

FIFA considered the celebration, which symbolised the emblem on the Albanian flag, to be "unsporting behaviour".

Arsenal have revealed midfielder Granit Xhaka has been ruled out for around three months after sustaining knee ligament damage against Tottenham last weekend.

The Switzerland international returned to Arsenal's starting line-up for the north London derby after serving a three-match ban but was forced off in the 82nd minute.

Xhaka was accidentally caught by Lucas Moura in the Gunners' 3-1 win at Emirates Stadium after the Brazil international had initially been challenged by Thomas Partey.

Speaking after Sunday's victory, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted he was "pretty worried" about a potential injury lay-off for the 29-year-old.

Arsenal have now confirmed that, while Xhaka does not require surgery, the injury is serious enough to potentially keep him out of action for the rest of 2021.

"Further to injuring his right knee during Sunday's match against Tottenham, assessments and scans have confirmed Granit Xhaka suffered a significant injury to his medial knee ligament," a club statement read on Wednesday.

"A specialist consultation took place in London on Tuesday evening, which has determined that Granit does not require surgery. 

"Granit's recovery and rehabilitation programme will start immediately, and we are aiming for him to be back in action in approximately three months.

"Everyone at the club will now be supporting and working hard with Granit to get him back on the pitch as soon as possible."

Xhaka will therefore miss November's meetings with Liverpool and Manchester United and may be doubtful to face Manchester City on New Year's Day. Arsenal visit Spurs two weeks later.

He will also play no further part in Switzerland's World Cup qualifying group-stage campaign.

Despite only Bukayo Saka making more appearances (46) for Arsenal last season in all competitions, Xhaka was heavily tipped to join Roma during the most recent transfer window.

The former Borussia Monchengladbach man instead agreed a contract extension with Arsenal and started four of their opening six Premier League games this term.

Xhaka ranks second to Albert Sambi Lokonga for tackles won among Arsenal players in the Premier League in 2021-22 – seven compared to nine, having played a game fewer than his team-mate – while only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has won more duels (25) than Xhaka's 22.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran her seventh sub-10.8 100m time this season, smashing Merlene Ottey’s 25-year-old meet record as she brought the curtain down on her season at the Gala del Castelli Meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday.

Roberto Mancini is planning to make changes to Italy's starting line-up for their next match after his "tired" side were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland on Sunday.

The Azzurri created a number of chances and saw a Jorginho penalty saved by Yann Sommer, who made seven saves in total at St. Jakob-Park.

It is the second stalemate in the space of three days for the recently crowned European champions, having also drawn 1-1 with Bulgaria in this week's World Cup qualifiers.

Despite dropping more points, Italy made it 36 games unbeaten to equal Brazil's all-time record, set between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini was once against disappointed with his side's profligacy in front of goal, however, as his side failed to find the net for the first time in 18 matches overall.

"This is a moment when the ball just isn't going in," he told Rai Sport. "Once again, we had too many chances not to win this game.

"It's not the penalty, it's other situations. We need to be more determined, more clinical, more precise. 

"Just like with Bulgaria, it's another match we cannot fail to win with that many scoring opportunities created.

"It was tougher in the second half, but we had the chances in the first half and the second, which means the team did play good football.

"The lads are tired, so there certainly will be some changes for the next game. It's a missed opportunity, exactly like on Thursday. Exactly the same."

 

That next game is against Lithuania in Reggio Emilia on Wednesday, a game Italy will be overwhelming favourites to win no matter what side Mancini fields.

Sunday's draw leaves Italy four points clear of Switzerland, though the Group C second seeds have two games in hand still to play.

With the sides set to face off again on Italian soil in two months' time, Mancini believes that showdown could well be a decider for the only automatic qualification spot.

"I think that will be the case, yes," he said.

Italy's run of draws spans four successive matches inside 90 minutes, though they won two of those matches on penalties on their way to Euro 2020 success.

Ten members of Italy's starting line-up were also part of the XI that helped brush aside Switzerland 3-0 in that tournament, with Emerson Palmieri for Leonardo Spinazzola the only change.

Skipper Giorgio Chiellini believes his side played better in Basel on Sunday than they did in that European Championship match two months ago.

"We played really well this evening in every sense, with technique and aggression, probably better than when we beat Switzerland 3-0 in June," he told RAI Sport.

"What we lacked was the little bit extra to score a goal. This is what we need to find as soon as possible, because this was already a big step forward from Thursday's game, as we were back to the team we saw at Wembley.

"We'll make another step forward for the Nations League in November, then we'll take World Cup qualification after that. 

"Let's take it one step at a time, recover some energy. There's a long way to go and we have to prepare for Wednesday."

Jorginho's penalty miss was his first for Italy from his sixth spot-kick, though that excludes shoot-outs, having also missed in Italy's triumph over England in the Euros final.

"At that moment, it's the team that has to help Jorginho and we did," Chiellini added. "If we didn't have that bit of focus, we could've lost tonight and then made it really complicated for our qualification.

"There are many positives to be taken from this performance and we have to build on those."

Italy were held to a goalless draw by Switzerland at St. Jakob-Park in Sunday's World Cup qualifier as they extended their unbeaten run to 36 games and matched the all-time record.

The Azzurri equalled Spain's European mark with a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria earlier this week and are now level with Brazil's global record, set between 1993 and 1996.

But the point will be considered a disappointment by Roberto Mancini as Jorginho missed a penalty and the wasteful visitors squandered a number of other presentable opportunities.

The draw leaves Italy, who had scored in each of their previous 17 matches, top of Group C and four points better off than a Switzerland side with two games in hand to play.

Domenico Berardi was reinstated in Italy's starting line-up and wasted the best of the first-half chances when failing to beat Yann Sommer after being played clean through.

Lorenzo Insigne was denied from a free-kick by Sommer, who was also equal to a weak shot from Ciro Immobile after Manuel Akanji had glanced just over at the other end.

An annoyed Mancini's mood did not improve eight minutes into the second half as Jorginho's tame penalty, awarded for Ricardo Rodriguez's foul on Berardi, was easily saved by Sommer.

That was the first penalty Jorginho has missed for Italy at the sixth time of taking one, excluding shoot-outs, having missed one in the Euro 2020 final against England.

Mancini instantly turned to substitutes Federico Chiesa and Nicolo Zaniolo but Italy struggled to create many more openings, with Insigne not getting enough power behind his shot to beat Sommer from the best of those.

Roberto Mancini expects to see more focus and ruthlessness from Italy when they face Switzerland after being held to a 1-1 draw by Bulgaria in World Cup qualifying on Thursday. 

In their first match on home soil since winning Euro 2020, Italy went in front through a fine finish from Federico Chiesa but were pegged back before half-time when a swift counter-attack ended with Atanas Iliev turning home. 

Georgi Georgiev did well to deny Chiesa and Ciro Immobile as the Azzurri searched for a winner in the second half, the Bulgaria goalkeeper finishing the game at Stadio Artemio Franchi with seven saves.

Despite failing to secure all three points, Italy made it 35 games unbeaten to equal the European record set by Spain.

Avoiding defeat to Switzerland in Basel on Sunday would see them match the world record for an undefeated run by a men’s international team set by Brazil between 1993 and 1996.

Mancini acknowledged his team may be fatigued by their push to defeat to Bulgaria but is demanding a more clinical display at the weekend. 

"Now the most important thing is to recover our strength for Sunday, because we attacked a lot in the closing stages and became a bit disorganised," said Mancini. 

"But we created so many opportunities. This is football. It happened today and it could happen at other times. When a team attacks, they are bound to suffer something, but the goal we conceded wasn't great. 

"But okay, we will be more focused and mean in Basel. 

"It will be a different game, also because Switzerland are a team that play. That puts you in difficulty but it also lets you play. We will have to play a great match and that's what we'll do. 

"Today, after the first goal we had to kill off the game. We will have to take to the pitch with the attitude of the second half. 

"We need to be more clinical, but the guys did well and what they had to do. We are pleased, but we would have preferred to reach 35 [games unbeaten] with a win."

Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka turned down opportunities for a COVID-19 vaccination before testing positive for the coronavirus, it has been revealed.

Coach Murat Yakin and Swiss Football Federation (SFV) communications chief Adrian Arnold declared Xhaka, who was forced out of the World Cup qualifier against Greece on Wednesday, exercised his right not to receive the vaccine.

Xhaka has faced stiff criticism in the Swiss media for snubbing the opportunity to bolster his body's defences as the pandemic continues to surge.

Yakin said: "We can simply give recommendations to the players. It is his decision not to be vaccinated and we must respect it. He's the captain, but he's also a man. It is his own rights."

According to Arnold, Xhaka was the only member of the Switzerland squad not to have had the jab or have already recovered from the virus.

The Arsenal player's case comes in the week that the SFV has written to its 1,400 clubs and 300,000 members urging them to be vaccinated. It also follows Xhaka's red card for a dangerous tackle on Gunners duty in a 5-0 defeat against Manchester City on Saturday.

Arnold said, quoted by several Swiss media: "Granit Xhaka was not vaccinated. He's a player who isn't vaccinated. We left this up to each player, it's a personal decision of each player – just like any other person in Switzerland.

"All the other players in the team have been vaccinated or have recovered – so they are more or less safe, at least from a medical point of view. One is never quite sure.

"Now, unfortunately, Granit caught it. From a sporting point of view, it is a shame for us at this important moment."

Arnold said the Switzerland team were doing all they could to reduce contact within their ranks, with social distancing encouraged where possible and masks worn in meetings.

"I think it would have been irresponsible on our part not to know who in the team is not vaccinated," Arnold said.

"We had intensive discussions with the players already during the Euros. We have done everything to facilitate access to the vaccine, but each person is free to decide whether or not they want to be vaccinated."

It appears unlikely Xhaka will be able to play in Switzerland's next game, which comes against Euro 2020 winners Italy in Basle on Sunday.

However, Arnold, quoted in Blick, said: "We still have hope. On Thursday he will do another PCR test. It is the case that [on Monday] he had a negative PCR test, on Wednesday morning a negative rapid test, now unfortunately a positive one. So we still have the hope that the test on Thursday will be negative."

Arsenal sit bottom of the Premier League table heading into the clash with Norwich City following the international break, though regardless of Xhaka's health by then, the midfielder is facing a three-match suspension so will not be involved.

Arsenal's Granit Xhaka has tested positive for coronavirus while on international duty with Switzerland.

The Swiss team confirmed on Wednesday that the midfielder – who was sent off in Arsenal's 5-0 hammering at the hands of Manchester City last weekend – was in isolation after returning a positive PCR test result.

Xhaka, who is Switzerland's captain, showed symptoms early on Wednesday, ahead of his country's friendly against Greece,

An initial test came back negative, but a subsequent PCR test confirmed a positive result. Xhaka will have another test on Thursday.

It was confirmed he had no contact with his team-mates throughout Wednesday and the team doctor deemed no further measures had to be taken as all the other players were either all vaccinated or had previously had COVID-19 and recovered, though a member of staff had to go into quarantine.

Xhaka impressed for Switzerland at Euro 2020 but has failed to bring that form into the Premier League season, with Arsenal losing all three of their games so far.

Mikel Arteta's side sit bottom of the table heading into the clash with Norwich City following the international break, though regardless of Xhaka's mandatory quarantine period, the midfielder is facing a three-match suspension so will not be involved.

Jamaican-born Swiss sprinter, Alex Wilson, will not be allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

This comes after a provisional suspension handed to Wilson by Anti-Doping Switzerland was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Wilson, a bronze medalist in the 200 metres at the 2018 European Championships, was handed the mandatory provisional suspension after an out-of-competition sample collected from him on March 15th revealed the presence of a metabolite, trenbolone, an anabolic steroid.

The Swiss sprinter blamed the presence of the prohibited substance on the consumption of contaminated beef he ate at a Jamaican Restaurant in the USA.  Wilson then challenged the ruling at the Swiss Olympic Disciplinary Chamber and was successful, as they arrived at a ruling to lift his suspension on July 2nd.

The Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), acting on behalf of World Athletics, along with WADA then successfully filed an application against the Disciplinary Chamber’s decision requesting that the provisional suspension be reinstated.

Head of the AIU, Brett Clothier, had this to say about the situation.

“We were not satisfied with the national-level decision to lift the mandatory provisional suspension and so together with WADA we appealed the decision. This case reflects the AIU’s commitment to protecting the interests of clean athletes and ensuring a level-playing field in Tokyo.”

 Wilson turned heads in the track and field world at the Georgia Games on July 18th with massive lifetime bests of 9.84 in the 100 metres and 19.84 in the 200 metres.

 

 

 

 

Xherdan Shaqiri has revealed he is ready to leave Liverpool and hinted he would enjoy playing under Maurizio Sarri at Lazio, praising the Italian coach's attacking style of play.

The Switzerland international joined the Reds in 2018 but has remained on the fringes of the first team throughout his time at Anfield.

And after enjoying Euro 2020 success, in which he became Switzerland's outright top scorer at major tournaments, Shaqiri has suggested his time under Jurgen Klopp may be coming to an end.

"Fortunately, football has helped me achieve many of my dreams," Shaqiri told Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport. "I was lucky enough to play with great teams and to win many titles.

"Who knows, maybe I could get something even with the Swiss national team. My contract [with] Liverpool expires in 2022, in 2018 I signed a four-year deal.

"The important thing at this moment in my career is to be able to play regularly, but that hasn’t always been the case in the last three seasons.

"This is why I told Liverpool that I feel ready for a new challenge. They accepted my wish and will seriously consider the offers that will come. They will not stop me."

Opportunities have been limited for Shaqiri at Liverpool as he has made just 45 top-flight appearances across a three-year spell, during which he has scored seven goals for the 2019-20 Premier League champions.

But the 29-year-old, whose 10 chances created at Euro 2020 were three more than Ricardo Rodriguez for the Swiss, proved his quality as he was one of Vladimir Petkovic's standout performers at the tournament.

While Shaqiri explained there had been no direct contact from clubs yet, he made clear his desire to keep playing regularly and praised the development of Italian football.

"I'm only 29 years old, I have played in some of the best leagues in Europe, and I would like to continue being a part of them," Shaqiri said. "I’m not yet thinking about the end of my career, it’s a future I imagine far away. We will see what destiny has in store for me.

"I think it’s not just my opinion that football in Italy has developed substantially in recent years. The win at the European Championship is there to prove it, a well-deserved result.

"Just take a look at how many Premier League players have moved to Serie A."

The former Bayern Munich winger, who has been directly involved in 51 goals in 96 appearances for his country, has limited experience in Serie A, too, given he spent six months with reigning champions Inter in 2015.

Asked whether a move to Italy and, more specifically, Lazio was an option, Shaqiri spoke glowingly of Sarri's qualities and complimented sporting director Igli Tare.

"Igli Tare has been doing an excellent job at Lazio for years," Shaqiri commented. "If it's true that he has great respect for me, then I’m honoured.

"I have been following Lazio for a long time, they are a top team. In general, due to my characteristics, I like to play more attacking football and Sarri practices it. It would be intriguing."

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