Belfast Telegraph

Comment: It's time football chiefs got switched on to TV technology


Steven Beacom

It was a scandalous decision. Shocking. Bordering on the shameful. Switzerland were superior to Northern Ireland at Windsor Park in the first leg of the World Cup play-off but in the major moment of the match they got lucky. Really lucky.

It was never a penalty. Not in Belfast. Not in Basel. Not in Brisbane, Barcelona or Ballymena but somehow referee Ovidiu Hategan saw it that way when Xherdan Shaqiri's volley smashed against Corry Evans who was standing just a few yards away.

The ball struck the Northern Ireland midfielder's shoulder.

His team-mates were about to applaud him for blocking the Stoke City star's powerful shot.

Instead they looked on in despair as the man in black pointed to the spot.

He then booked Evans, meaning that he is ruled out of Sunday's return leg.

Even the Swiss players had not appealed but they weren't about to disagree with the decision. Up stepped classy full-back Ricardo Rodriguez to calmly find the net as jeers rang out from disconsolate and disgusted home supporters.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill couldn't believe it.

All his incredible work and that of his heroic players over the qualifying campaign to reach the play-offs undone with one crazy call from the Romanian official.

This is the reason why video replays are needed in football. For contentious and controversial incidents. The technology is there. Why not use it like tennis and rugby? Using TV evidence would have reversed the match-defining decision within seconds.

Last night Northern Ireland paid the penalty for Hategan's misjudgement. We won't know until Sunday night but his call just before the hour could see Northern Ireland miss out on a place in next year's World Cup finals.

What a crying shame that would be. For O'Neill, his players, the Green and White Army and for football in general which has fallen behind other sports in the way of the modern world.

For most of the first leg Switzerland were slick and created numerous openings but they failed to put them away until they were presented with that penalty.

Going to Basel for the second leg at 0-0, O'Neill would have fancied his chances having not conceded an away goal.

Now trailing 1-0, Northern Ireland have a mountain to climb. Heading to Switzerland on a chartered flight tonight, captain Steven Davis and co will know that making it to Russia from here will be akin to scaling the Alps in bare feet.

But don't give up on these boys. They are still in there fighting and the injustice at Windsor will drive them on to hopefully even greater heights than they have reached in recent years.

They are still in this tie and have the character to come through it even if the Swiss left the stadium as massive favourites to progress.

The inspirational Davis, who won his 100th cap, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans and the rest will need the game of their lives at the weekend.

There have been big nights at Windsor before when Northern Ireland qualified for the 1958, 1982 and 1986 World Cups and of course the Euro 2016 finals, but surely none as big as last night's with what was at stake.

The World Cup is a much greater beast than it was back in the 1950s and 1980s in terms of global reach, profile, finance and hype.

O'Neill and his players knew the golden ticket that awaited them and so did the supporters who created an atmosphere to remember well before kick-off.

Around 16,000 shiny green and white flags were waved in unison in the stands. It was a feast for the eyes to add to the sweet music to the ears as the fans roared loud and proud in anticipation of an epic evening.

By the end of a compelling 90 minutes, their night had been ruined by a Romanian referee.

Belfast Telegraph


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