Referee's World Cup play off admission means nothing to Northern Ireland: Sammy McIlroy
Northern Ireland legend Sammy McIlroy says referee Ovidiu Hategan's admission that he made a huge mistake in the World Cup play-off defeat by Switzerland will "mean nothing" to the fans and team who won't be going to the finals in Russia this summer.
Hategan wrongly ruled that Corry Evans blocked a shot with his arm during the first leg, despite replays showing the ball struck the player's shoulder.
"It was a sad and unpleasant moment for me, sad because I made that mistake," Hategan said.
The blunder ended the Romanian's hopes of refereeing at the World Cup finals but, ironically, he does support video technology to assist referees in Russia. He said: "I'll see if I'm going to be a video referee."
- Watch: That controversial handball that gave Switzerland victory over Northern Ireland in the World Cup play-off
Former Manchester United favourite McIlroy said: "He may as well have said nothing. Even an apology would be too late as he made a big mistake, and there's nothing he can say that can undo the damage or make the boys or Michael O'Neill feel any better.
"If he remains involved in some capacity at the World Cup as a video ref, that would be hard to take. Referees will make mistakes but this incident highlighted the importance of the use of video technology in the big games."
Hategan’s name was not included in Fifa’s list of 36 match referees who will take charge of games at this year’s World Cup.
But Northern Ireland’s pain was a lot deeper as, when Swiss defender Ricardo Rodriguez scored the spot-kick to secure the only goal of the play-off, it ended hopes of back-to-back major tournament action and cost the Irish FA around £13million in revenue.
Hategan explained: “Unfortunately I’m not among the 36, but I’ll see if I’m going to be a video referee. Surely it has had a big influence and what happened in the play-off game, it’s not a secret and I’m not hiding behind words.
“In our world, the referees are the same as the goalkeepers — everyone sees the mistake. I’ve got over that moment, I’m a strong man. My family were there for me.”
Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill and the Irish FA, one of the five members of the law-making body, the International Football Association Board, have called for the introduction of video technology after the play-off defeat.
“The video (referee) will bring improvements,” said Hategan. “You have seen the results in other championships, but discussions will always be a lot of talk, but I am firmly convinced that those big mistakes will be eliminated.”
McIlroy added: “Video technology has got to be used in the big games that matter, not meaningless internationals.
“I think this whole disappointing episode should be put to bed because a huge mistake was made and it can’t be changed. Nothing the referee can say can change anything. It was a call that hurt Northern Ireland and only served to highlight the need for video technology.”