IFA in discussions with FIFA over dodgy penalty

Referee Ovidiu Hategan gives Northern Ireland's Corry Evans a yellow card after making his controversial penalty decision during the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park
Referee Ovidiu Hategan gives Northern Ireland's Corry Evans a yellow card after making his controversial penalty decision during the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park

The IFA has declined to confirm whether it will take action similar to that brought by its counterpart in Dublin following the infamous Thierry Henry handball that kept the Republic of Ireland out of the 2010 World Cup.

The News Letter understands, however, that IFA officials are in discussion with world football’s governing body FIFA over the refereeing decisions that saw Northern Ireland eliminated from the World Cup in heartbreaking circumstances at the weekend.

Northern Ireland were ruled out of the 2018 World Cup thanks to a hotly-disputed penalty decision during the first of two qualifying play-off ties against Switzerland last Thursday.

Switzerland scored the penalty kick, giving them a 1-0 victory which Northern Ireland were then unable to overturn during Sunday night’s scoreless match.

In 2009, the Republic of Ireland were eliminated from the World Cup in similarly controversial circumstances when French player Thierry Henry clearly handled the ball, allowing teammate William Gallas to score a decisive winning goal for his team.

At that time, the FAI in Dublin decided to take a case to FIFA seeking to have the Republic’s elimination from the World Cup overturned.

While the legal action did not bear fruit in terms of actually giving the Republic a World Cup reprieve, the FAI’s chief executive John Delaney revealed later that FIFA had made a payment of some €5 million to the FAI.

Northern Ireland centre-back Jonny Evans drew a direct comparison between the two handball incidents directly after his team’s loss to Switzerland last Thursday night.

In fact, Evans insisted the decision against Northern Ireland was even worse than the one against the Republic of Ireland in 2009.

“It was actually a worse decision because the ref has made a call that was not there,” he said.

“It’s different if he didn’t see it. He’s claimed he saw something that didn’t happen which is the hardest part to take about it.”

In the Windsor Park game, a penalty was awarded to Switzerland for a handball by Corry Evans, after the ball was kicked straight at him with considerable force.

As he turned, it appeared to strike him on the back, near the shoulder.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill described the referee’s decision as “bewildering” and “staggering”.

Boxing star Carl Frampton wrote on Twitter: “At the end of the day what put us out was an incompetent referee with one of the worst penalty decisions the world has ever seen.”

The News Letter asked the IFA whether they plan to take action similar to that brought by the FAI back in 2009, or whether it plans to make any representations to FIFA.

While the IFA declined to make an official comment on Monday evening, the News Letter understands discussions with FIFA are ongoing, but not focussed on the unlikely scenario of replaying the tie or of securing Northern Ireland’s entry to the World Cup by other means.

DUP MP Gregory Campbell meanwhile said that if the IFA were to bring a case to FIFA, he would support the move.

“If the IFA decide to go down that route, they will have my support, and I am sure that of most other Northern Ireland supporters,” he said.