FOOTBALL: Irish Football Association to support implementation of video technology

Northern Ireland appeal against the penalty for  Switzerland
Northern Ireland appeal against the penalty for Switzerland

The Irish Football Association will support the roll-out of video assistant referees across key international fixtures having seen Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream shattered by a controversial penalty decision.

The Northern Irish failed to reach Russia next summer following a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Switzerland in the play-offs, with the Swiss’ passage sealed by a spot-kick call that will haunt Michael O’Neill’s men forever.

Referee Ovidiu Hategan adjudged Corry Evans had handled Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot at Windsor Park last Thursday, even though replays showed it appeared to hit the back of his shoulder, making the loss all the more difficult to accept.

The IFA, Northern Ireland’s governing body, is one of the five members of the law-making body the International Football Association Board, so it will have a key say over the possible implementation of VARs.

While it will not comment publicly, Press Association Sport understands that the IFA intend to write to FIFA to express dismay at the circumstances that have denied Northern Ireland a World Cup berth.

It is thought that despite some previous reservations, the IFA will now strongly advocate a VAR being available to referees for international fixtures where the stakes are high.

Having witnessed Northern Ireland miss out on a first World Cup in 32 years, the IFA is believed to be determined to ensure other nations are not victims of controversy that can be cleared up immediately by a VAR.

Just 24 hours after the Swiss’ victory in Belfast, a VAR was trialled in an official UK game for the first time when England met Germany in a friendly at Wembley.

Had it been available at Windsor Park, under the terms of the trial, referee Hategan would have swiftly been informed that he was wrong to award Switzerland a penalty.

Trials of VARs are under way in several countries and FIFA has been using it in some of its tournaments, including the Club World Cup and recent Under-17 World Cup.

There has been mixed feedback in both the Bundesliga and Serie A, where pilots are running, but the IFA now has first-hand experience of how a VAR could have kept Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes alive.

Speaking after the first leg, boss O’Neill had said: “It’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game-changer.

“It (a VAR) should be used for anything that is a defining decision, which is clearly what we saw. A penalty given in those circumstances, a VAR would have cleared it up and said it’s clearly not a pen.”

O’Neill’s view was backed up by West Brom defender Chris Brunt who said: “To lose over two legs to an horrendous decision sums it up really,” he added.

“I think it (VARs) will have to be brought in, especially with league football as well, there’s too much riding on stuff now.

“For a country like ours to miss out on the World Cup, based on a decision that could have been overturned in 10 seconds...it’s going to have to be looked at - just not in time for us.”