Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill lambasted referee Ovidiu Hategan’s decision to award Switzerland a decisive penalty in their 1-0 World Cup play-off win at Windsor Park as “staggering” and “bewildering”.
Ricardo Rodriguez scored the only goal from the spot in Belfast to put Switzerland in the driving seat ahead of Sunday’s return in Basle.
The visitors dominated for long periods but the manner of their winner understandably irked O’Neill, with Corry Evans penalised for handball in the area even through Xherdan Shaqiri’s rasping volley appeared to strike him on the back as the turned away from the shot.
“It’s staggering really to think that the referee can award a penalty in that situation. He’s five or six yards from the incident, it’s in his line of sight,” O’Neill told Sky Sports.
“The ball hits Corry more at the back of his shoulder than his arm. It’s incredible.
“No one claimed for it. It’s bewildering in this day and age.”
O’Neill’s grievances with Hategan were not limited to the penalty call.
Switzerland centre-back Fabian Schar was only booked for a reckless early lunge on Stuart Dallas, who attempted to play on before finally hobbling out of the action after half-time.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) November 9, 2017
“The opening tackle by Schar was a borderline red card. The referee didn’t do us any favours,” O’Neill said.
“We have to process it, we have to forget about it
“The players reacted well. I thought we played much better in the second half. We had a few claims ourselves that we’ll look back at.”
Adding insult to injury, the yellow card given to Evans for his part in the penalty incident means he is suspended next time out.
“How can you book a player for that? If that’s the level we’re going to hand out cards for then we’re going in the wrong direction,” O’Neill added.
“There’s anger in the dressing room. They feel aggrieved about what happened.”
Stoke City winger Shaqiri sought to sound a diplomatic tone when asked about the penalty decision but insisted Switzerland were good value for their victory overall.
“I didn’t see it again yet, I don’t know if it was a penalty or not,” he told Sky Sports.
“I tried to make a shot on goal. I don’t know if he touched it with his hand or not so I have to watch again. The referee gave the penalty and that’s football.”
Shaqiri added: “We controlled the game for 90 minutes. We had a lot of possession and created chances too. We played much better than Northern Ireland and I think we deserved to win.
“For us it’s the best result that we can get here in Northern Ireland. We knew it was going to be difficult and it was with their own fans behind them. It was a very nice atmosphere.”
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