O'Neill bemoans penalty call after World Cup misery

Sports | Nov 14, 2017
Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill bemoaned the controversial first- leg penalty that saw his side's World Cup dream end with a 1-0 aggregate defeat by Switzerland in their playoff.

Ricardo Rodriguez's spot-kick in Belfast last week proved the difference between the two sides, as the Swiss held off late pressure from the unfancied Northern Irish in the second leg in Basel.

O'Neill said his players would still feel hard done by, after the decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan to award Switzerland a penalty when Xherdan Shaqiri's volley struck Corry Evans on the shoulder from point-blank range.

"Ultimately, we've gone out to a poor decision in the first leg," he said after the second-leg 0-0 stalemate. "If it wasn't for the penalty, we'd be playing extra time. The players will be remembered for the performance tonight.

"It's a very sore way to lose."

Despite the controversy surrounding the winning goal, which saw Evans having to apologize for his wife's rant on Twitter, in which she called the referee a "Romanian gypsy," Switzerland were the better side over the two legs, as they booked their spot at next year's showpiece in Russia.

Rodriguez cleared an injury-time header from Jonny Evans off the line to end Northern Ireland's dream.

In Piraeus, Croatia were barely made to break sweat, as they secured a World Cup berth with a goalless draw against Greece. Croatia took the first leg 4-1 in Zagreb.


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