NI v Switzerland: Michael O'Neill calls penalty decision "bewildering"

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill called the decision to award Switzerland a match-deciding penalty in the first leg of their World Cup play-off "bewildering".

Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan inexplicably pointed to the spot in the second half when Xherdan Shaqiri's shot hit the top of Corry Evans' arm when the Northern Ireland midfielder had his back turned.

Ricardo Rodriguez converted from the spot to give the Swiss a 1-0 lead going back to Basel on Sunday and Evans was booked to rub salt into the wound, meaning he will miss the second leg.

O'Neill was at a loss to explain the decision while also suggesting Switzerland defender Fabian Schar should have received a red card for a reckless early challenge on Stuart Dallas.

"It's staggering really that the referee can give that penalty decision in that situation," O'Neill said on Sky Sports. "He was six yards from the incident, he has no one in his line of sight.

"Corry has just gone to block it, his body is turned and the ball actually hits him more on the shoulder than the arm so it is incredible.

"I thought he had blown for a foul or for offside, so to give a penalty for that, when nobody appealed, it is bewildering really.

"In such a defining moment in the match we feel very hard done by.

"The tackle by Schar was a borderline red card, the referee certainly didn't do us any favours tonight."

Switzerland were worthy of their win at Windsor Park and had several chances to have won the game in less controversial circumstances, while the hosts failed to register a shot on target.

O'Neill wants his side to channel their sense of injustice and turn the tie around in Basel on Sunday.

"We have to forget about it, I thought the players' reaction was very good," he added. "It's very difficult when you go behind in a game of this magnitude to an incident like that but I thought they reacted very well.

"We are still in the tie, we are only 1-0 down and maybe we will get the good fortune of having a referee who will give us a decision like that in the second leg.

"I won't have to pick them up, you can tell there is anger in the dressing room, they are very aggrieved by what happened.

"They still believe they are in the tie, that's the most important thing, it's not like we are going there with nothing to play for."

Shaqiri was the stand-out player for the Swiss and the Stoke winger took a diplomatic view of the penalty.

"I didn't see the penalty and I don't know if it was one or not," he said.

"I tried to have a shot on goal and I don't know if he touched with his hand or not.

"In the end the referee gave the penalty and that is football. I will have to look again at the situation.

"I think we controlled the game for 90 minutes and we had a lot of ball possession and created a lot of chances too, it was only a matter of time until we scored. I think we deserved the win.

"For us it is the best result we could get here because we knew it was going to be very difficult."