Northern Ireland boss O'Neill slams referee after 'staggering' penalty decision

A decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan helped Switzerland to a 1-0 first-leg win, and the Northern Ireland boss baffled by the call

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was left dumbstruck by the penalty decision that leaves his nation on the brink of elimination from World Cup qualifying.

The country's chances of making Russia took a hit on Thursday thanks in large part to a penalty decision that went firmly against the home side and in favor of Switzerland.

Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot in the second half when Xherdan Shaqiri’s shot struck Corry Evans’ shoulder as he turned in an attempt to block it.

Ricardo Rodriguez made no mistake and despite a resolute defensive showing, O’Neill's side will be trailing 1-0 as they head to Basel on Sunday for the second leg of the World Cup play-off.

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To make matters even worse Evans, who was booked, will miss out of the return leg due to yellow card accumulation.

After the match O'Neill found it hard to hold back his displeasure with the officials, not only for that call but also for not sending off Fabian Schar for a reckless challenge on Stuart Dallas early in the match.

“It’s staggering really that the referee can give that penalty decision in that situation,” he 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.”

Evans was equally bemused at the decision, which leaves him to suffer on the sidelines in the return.

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"I clearly didn't put my hand up and I know it hit me on the back of the shoulder. I'm just absolutely gutted to be honest," he told the BBC.

"He's booked me as well so it means I'm out of the second leg, which is devastating as well."

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