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Salzburg forward Okafor gets Switzerland call for Italy game

November 5, 2021 GMT
Salzburg's Noah Okafor celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Champions League group G soccer match between Salzburg and VfL Wolfsburg, at the Salzburg stadium, in Salzburg, Austria, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Salzburg's Noah Okafor celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Champions League group G soccer match between Salzburg and VfL Wolfsburg, at the Salzburg stadium, in Salzburg, Austria, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
Salzburg's Noah Okafor celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the Champions League group G soccer match between Salzburg and VfL Wolfsburg, at the Salzburg stadium, in Salzburg, Austria, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Salzburg forward Noah Okafor was rewarded for goals in the Champions League with a place in Switzerland’s squad on Friday for World Cup qualifiers including a key game at Italy.

Italy leads Switzerland on the goal difference tiebreaker in European qualifying Group C before playing their second-to-last game in Rome next Friday. European group winners advance direct to the World Cup in Qatar and runners-up go to the playoffs in March.

The 21-year-old Okafor’s only previous international game was in 2019 playing several minutes as a late substitute against England at the UEFA Nations League finals.

Okafor is back after scoring twice for Salzburg in a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg in the Champions League last month.

Switzerland coach Murat Yakin said the former Basel player also impressed for the under-21 team.

Captain Granit Xhaka is still absent because of a knee injury while playing for Arsenal against Tottenham.

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Xherdan Shaqiri is on track to reach 100 national team appearances if he plays against Italy and again when the Swiss host Bulgaria three days later.

European champion Italy completes its program at Northern Ireland on Nov. 15. Italy went into the playoffs four years ago and was eliminated by Sweden over two legs to miss the 2018 tournament.

The European playoffs this time involve three brackets each of four teams playing in a single-leg semifinals and final format to decide which three teams advance to Qatar.

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