In Brief

‘Disgraceful’ penalty decision dents Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream

Renewed calls for more technology after referee’s blunder at Windsor Park

History will be made at Wembley tonight when a video referee is used in the friendly between England and Germany.

How Northern Ireland will be rueing the fact the technology was not in place at Windsor Park last night as their hopes of qualifying for a first World Cup in 32 years was dealt a cruel blow.

Switzerland will take a slender 1-0 lead back to Basel for the second leg of their play on Sunday courtesy of what Ireland boss Michael O’Neill called a “staggering” penalty decision and the player penalised Corry Evans dubbed “disgraceful”.

Referee Ovidiu Hategan must have been the only person in the stadium who thought Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot had hit Evans on the hand rather than the back of his shoulder but unfortunately for Ireland his was the only opinion that counted.

It would have taken a video assistant referee a matter of seconds to correct Hategan’s blunder which makes it even more galling, for Northern Irish fans especially, that Fifa has dragged its heels on getting the technology is in place for such crucial games.

This is not the first time Irish football fans have been left with a burning sense of injustice due to a refereeing decision in a World Cup qualifier. The Republic of Ireland were denied a place at the 2010 World Cup by Thierry Henry’s sneaky handball, although on that occasion you could forgive the referee for missing it.

There was not even a grain of doubt that Hategan got this call wrong, the Daily Mail says.

“Evans did not move his arm towards it, indeed it is doubtful he even saw it coming. It struck him on his upper arm at best, although mainly his back and shoulder, and with little chance to get entirely out of the way.

“We cannot even argue with any great conviction that we have seen them given, because most referees are smarter than that. They know when a man is trying to gain advantage and when he is a victim of pure accident. Players know, too. There were no appeals from the Swiss players, meaning Northern Ireland’s were astonished when Hategan pointed to the spot.”

While Ireland were incensed by the defeat, The Daily Telegraph reported that they could not argue that Switzerland were the better team on the night.

“Switzerland created the better chances and looked the superior side, although Northern Ireland’s reaction after the penalty was impressive. However, for large periods of the first half they were sucked deeper and deeper and rode their luck, as they did at times before Rodriguez scored.”

Unlike the Republic in 2009, at least Northern Ireland have a chance of redemption, although the BBC highlighted the fact that they face a mountain to climb in the second leg.

“Northern Ireland now 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.”

There was no such controversy in the night’s other play-off with Croatia taking a huge step towards the World Cup in Russia next year by overwhelming Greece 4-1 in Zagreb.

Italy travel to Sweden tonight for the first leg of their play-off hoping to avoid missing a first World Cup for the first time since 1958.

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