Belfast Telegraph

Games of a high magnitude are too crucial not to bring in video replays, insists dejected Brunt


By Paul Ferguson in Basel

Distraught Chris Brunt has called for the immediate introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) following Northern Ireland's controversial exit from the World Cup play-offs.

Michael O'Neill's men are heartbroken after Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan's penalty decision in Belfast gifted Switzerland a 1-0 first-leg win, which was then enough to see the Alpine nation go through to Russia with the second leg in Basel ending scoreless on Sunday night.

VAR was trialled during Friday's international friendly between England and Germany at Wembley but Fifa did not make it available to Hategan.

If VAR had have been in operation at Windsor Park, Hategan's gaffe would have been corrected within a minute.

"I think it will have to be brought in, especially with league football as well, there's too much riding on games now," admitted 32-year-old Brunt, who won his 65th cap in Switzerland.

"For a country like ours to miss out on the World Cup based on a decision that could have been overturned in 10 seconds… it's going to have to be looked at, but just not in time for us."

The 2018 World Cup was likely to be Brunt's last opportunity to reach a major finals with his beloved country having missed out on the Euro 2016 finals through injury.

That is why the manner in which Northern Ireland have been booted out of the World Cup play-offs is galling for Brunt.

"To lose over two legs to an horrendous decision sums it up really," sighed Brunt. "We're gutted and we didn't leave anything out there.

"Some of the lads mentioned Thierry Henry and his handball and that's the type of scenario that has happened and why we are now missing out. However, we didn't score any goals over the two legs, so we let ourselves down there, but it wasn't for the want of trying.

"Switzerland have got away with one and you can see by their reaction at the end of the game in Basel, they were glad to get that over with.

"We couldn't ask for any more and one opportunity got kicked off the line at the end. It just wasn't to be."

Brunt admits this defeat will hurt for a long time but it hasn't been made worse by the fact he wasn't able to play in France.

"Look, injuries are part and parcel of the game. I was unlucky," conceded Brunt. "The lads did well in France, and if it hadn't have been for my injury I'd have been there too. You can't look back on that. Hopefully I've still got a couple of years left in me yet."

Whether Brunt decides to simply concentrate on his club career and opts to retire from international football is something the Belfast lad will now have to contemplate over the next couple of months.

His West Brom team-mate Gareth McAuley is in a similar situation, however it is expected Aaron Hughes will call it a day.

Boss O'Neill has told his players to make no rash decisions and take their time on deciding international futures.

"A few of us are getting on so there will be a few decisions to make over the next few months, but I don't think it's time to say anything about that now. I think everyone is gutted, and this is as gutted as I've ever been in my football career," added Brunt.

"We could have come away from the two legs thinking we could have done better, but I don't think we could have done better. We can take pride from that.

"All good things have to come to an end at some stage. It's been very good, the last four or five years under Michael. It's been as enjoyable to be part of this group as any I've been involved in and I've been playing for the last 14 years."

Belfast Telegraph


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