Sat, Nov 11, 2017 - Page 16 News List

Switzerland beat N Ireland on penalty

VICTIM MENTALITY:Northern Ireland have compared their qualifier loss to Ireland’s 2010 shock, saying that this is worse because it was a ‘wrong decision’ by the referee

AP, BELFAST

Northern Ireland’s Chris Brunt, top, leaps over Switzerland’s Stephan Lichtsteiner on Thursday in their 2018 FIFA World Cup playoff at Windsor Park in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Photo: EPA

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans thinks the contentious penalty awarded on Thursday for handball during his team’s 1-0 loss to Switzerland was “a worse decision” than the Thierry Henry handball which deprived Ireland of a spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

A volley by Xherdan Shaqiri struck the shoulder of Evans’ brother Corey as the Northern Ireland midfielder attempted to block the shot.

Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot, sparking angry protests from the Northern Ireland players.

Ricardo Rodriguez duly converted in the 58th minute for an away goal that put Switzerland in good position going into the return leg of qualifying for its fourth consecutive World Cup.

In 2009, striker Thierry Henry’s infamous and deliberate handball set up the goal that sent France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland.

Evans thinks the call in Belfast was worse.

“It’s a worse decision because the referee has actually made a call,” Evans said. “It’s different if he didn’t see it, [but] he’s claiming that he did see something that didn’t happen, and that’s the hardest bit to take.”

“It’s strange because I had a feeling the referee knew that he had made a wrong decision and I’m sure he was getting feed information throughout the game and he could tell with everybody else’s reaction that maybe he had made the wrong call,” Evans added.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill bemoaned the lack of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology in the World Cup playoff series.

“It’s just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high at this level of the game that something like that is a game-changer,” O’Neill said.

“I spent three hours in a conference the other week at FIFA on Video Assistant Refereeing [VAR] and certainly when you see what happened tonight you would certainly be an advocate of it,” he added.

VAR is still at the experimental stage and is currently being used in the German Bundesliga and Italian Serie A among other leagues around the world.

It will be seen at the World Cup finals, but that was no consolation for O’Neill’s team on Thursday.

“It should be used for anything which is a defining decision in the game, which is clearly what we saw tonight,” O’Neill said. “A penalty in those circumstances and if you are going to give it, VAR clearly would have cleared that up and said it’s clearly not a penalty.”

Swiss manager Vladimir Petkovic said the penalty decision should not overshadow the performance of his team.

“After all we deserved to win,” he said. “We should have scored more, [but] sadly we missed.”

Switzerland dominated the match with a demonstration of one-touch soccer to pick apart the defense in the first half, helped by the fact that Northern Ireland afforded them far too much space.

Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was teed up twice in the opening 15 minutes, but his attempts from outside the area both cleared the crossbar.

The Swiss made plenty of progress down the flanks, with the combination of captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and Shaqiri proving a constant threat on the right.

A dangerous ball in the 18th from Shaqiri picked out Haris Seferovic and the striker’s header was well saved by goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

Seconds into the second half, Shaqiri almost curled a shot into the top corner, but the ball went narrowly wide.

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