NI v Switzerland opinion: It is win or bust in Basel

Corry Evans and his Northern Ireland team mates react in disbelief at the penalty decision awarded against them during the play-off game against Switzerland

Referee Ovidiu Hategan is going to be a name that will live long in the memory of every Northern Ireland fan, but not for any good reasons.

The Romanian official definitely made one of the worst decisions I have ever seen.

At the time no one at the National Stadium, and I mean no one, appealed for anything, let alone a penalty.

So when Hategan awarded the spot kick no wonder every player was fuming (to be honest I think even the Swiss players were laughing at the decision).

It gave the Swiss a crucial Ricardo Rodriguez away goal which could yet end the Green and White Army’s hopes of reaching Russia next summer.

Now if that terrible decision in the end means Michael O’Neill’s good work in this campaign comes to end it would be a cruel blow.

However last night’s display in front of another sellout and passionate support, wasn’t up to the usual high standard in this campaign.

Steven Davis, who was celebrating his 100th cap, never really influenced the first leg tie.

His usually trusty sidekick Oliver Norwood was also playing second fiddle to Granit Xhaka and Denis Zakaria.

While Northern Ireland’s strong points throughout the campaign have been their threat from set-pieces, the delivery from Chris Brunt and Norwood on too many occasions was not good enough.

In spite of the doom and gloom and more so frustration at the final whistle, Davis and Co know they need to give it one more big final push in Basel on Sunday.

The first goal is going to be crucial and the fact that O’Neill’s side have to take the game to the Swiss may help them in the end.

Northern Ireland have to start on the front foot, with the likes of Jamie Ward (who has to start), Davis, Norwood and Josh Magennis all giving their all.

They don’t have to throw everything at Switzerland early on - but the kitchen sink needs to be thrown in by the time the second leg has finished if the Green and White Army want to take over Red Square next June.

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