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.

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.

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