Belfast Telegraph

Blundering referee Hategan should be made to explain himself publicly, blasts Ward

By Paul Ferguson in Basel

Furious Jamie Ward has demanded the referee blamed for Northern Ireland's exit from the World Cup be made accountable for his actions.

Romanian official Ovidiu Hategan is Northern Ireland's public enemy No.1 after he awarded Switzerland a penalty for a handball by Corry Evans in the first leg of the play-offs - even though the ball clearly struck the Blackburn midfielder on the back. Switzerland scored the resulting spot-kick, and that was enough to see the Swiss through to the finals next year.

Ward believes Fifa should make Hategan explain publicly why he made the decision to penalise Evans.

The 31-year-old said: "It's disappointing the manner in which we've lost this play-off and it would be nice if the referee would come out and explain his decision. We as players have to answer our critics when we make mistakes, so why shouldn't he?"

Ward made his first start for Northern Ireland in the St Jakob-Park Stadium since scoring against Norway at Windsor Park last March. The Nottingham Forest livewire made a huge difference to a side that struggled against the Swiss during the first leg with his relentless running and combative style.

"We were a lot better than we were in the first game," admitted Ward, who won his 32nd cap. "Did we deserve to lose over the two legs? I don't think so. I think if the game had have gone into extra-time it would have been a bit of justice after the terrible decision to award the penalty.

"Switzerland have not really hurt us in two games, I know they had a couple of chances but when it comes to putting the ball in the net, they've not been great. It's just disappointing and now we have to get past it."

Ward, who missed five key World Cup qualifying games through injury, was desperate to play his part in a major victory that would have seen Northern Ireland qualify for their first World Cup since Mexico 1986.

Bitterly disappointed Ward was left to console his devastated team-mates who were extremely emotional after the game, many realising this was their last opportunity to play in a World Cup.

"I'm very proud of the team, and we've had a great four years," admitted Ward. "We always leave our heart and soul on the pitch. We were asked to do that. It was 90 minutes where we tried to score and unfortunately we didn't win the game. We are heartbroken, we are gutted and at the moment there is a great deal of emotion.

"It's not nice seeing your team-mates, players you have been close to for a long time, in tears. Grown men crying was hard to take and you don't see that very often."

Ward may continue his Northern Ireland career in the Nations Cup next year but there are decisions to be made on the international futures of Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt and Aaron Hughes.

And he is confident international retirements will be kept to a minimum.

"We'll definitely stick together," stated Ward. "We've got a lot of grit and determination.

"We've all got to stick together. As long as the majority of the squad sticks together and the manager stays then I think we'll be fine."

Belfast Telegraph

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