Dodgy penalty leaves NI with Swiss mountain to climb

Referee Ovidiu Hategan dismisses protests by Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood, Steve Davis and Gareth McAuley after his controversial penalty decision during the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland
Referee Ovidiu Hategan dismisses protests by Northern Ireland's Oliver Norwood, Steve Davis and Gareth McAuley after his controversial penalty decision during the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland

The first leg of Northern Ireland’s crunch World Cup qualifier against Switzerland ended in frustration and disappointment tonight.

The team’s chances of reaching their first World Cup finals in over 30 years were dented as the Swiss took a slim 1-0 advantage back to Basel in the play-off tie.

It was the biggest night at Windsor Park for decades.

And while most NI fans agreed that the Swiss were the better side, many within the ranks of the Green and White Army felt their team had been hard done by after being on the receiving end of a divisive penalty decision.

Referee Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot on the 58th minute when a shot by Xherdan Shaqiri struck Corry Evans on the arm at close range.

The controversial decision incensed players and supporters alike.

Venting his frustrations on social media, one fan tweeted: “Fair play to Switzerland they were the better team, but the standard of refereeing tonight was an absolute disgrace for a World Cup Play off.”

Despite the controversy overshadowing the game, many fans remain upbeat about Northern Ireland’s chances of qualification as the team prepares to travel to Basel on Sunday for the second leg.

One upbeat fan tweeted: “That was very harsh on Northern Ireland, but we’re not out of it yet. I believe we can turn it around in Basel.”

Belfast boxing star Carl Frampton posted: “A disgraceful decision by a very poor referee has made things a lot more difficult for us in Basel. But we can still do it.”

Ahead of the crucial game, DUP leader Arlene Foster spurred the team on, tweeting: “Russia is in sight. I have no doubt the atmosphere will be electric in Windsor tonight.”

Ulster GAA also showed their support, tweeting: “Best wishes to @OfficialIrishFA in their World Cup play-off games against @SFV_ASF tonight and Sunday.”