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World Cup 2018

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Hategan has blown hopes of refereeing on big stage

 

By Graham Luney

It's an irony that Northern Ireland fans will take little comfort from, but when referee Ovidiu Hategan made the horrendous error in awarding Switzerland a penalty in the play-off first leg at Windsor Park he sounded the final whistle on his own World Cup dream.

The Romanian's refereeing career at the highest level will never recover from this costly blunder, but he will today have some empathy with the players he enraged as he too will be outside looking in when the world's biggest sporting event kicks off in Russia next summer.

A trained doctor from Arad in his homeland, the experienced Fifa official knows his self-inflicted wound will never heal.

The Northern Ireland squad and their supporters will have little sympathy for the 37-year-old, as the decisive moment in the play-off was Corry Evans' handball that never was and the penalty that should never have been given.

But Hategan does not walk away unscathed. His hopes of refereeing in the World Cup are shattered and it's virtually certain he will not be handed the responsibility of officiating at big European club games or international matches in the future.

When shown footage of the penalty incident, Hategan put his hands to his head and admitted: "I got it wrong." He acknowledged he had made a costly error, but defended his decision to show Fabian Schar only a yellow card for his two-footed lunge on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute.

The penalty blunder, which included a yellow card for Evans which ruled him out of the second leg, will feature heavily in a report which will be studied by Uefa's referees' committee.

That committee will meet early next month to look at gradings for next year and Hategan will expect to be downgraded.

He will pay a price and his career may never recover, mirroring the fate of Swedish referee Martin Hansson who failed to spot Thierry Henry's handball in the World Cup play-off second leg against the Republic of Ireland in Paris in 2009.

Hansson was still named among the 30 referees for the finals in South Africa, but he considered retiring before that. His confidence was shattered and he was unable to referee high-profile fixtures again.

In Hategan's case, his Windsor Park horror show is a real low point of a once promising career. He became a Fifa referee in 2008, lifting him to the international stage, but before then he had gained experience in Romania's Liga 1, 2 and 3 since 2003.

Having already refereed in Euro 2012 and 2014 World Cup qualifiers, including at the Euro 2016 finals where he took centre stage in Northern Ireland's 1-0 defeat to Poland in Nice and the Republic of Ireland's 1-0 win over Italy in Lille, he would have been considered a safe pair of hands at Uefa. Not anymore.

Northern Ireland could have been spared this heartbreak had the governing body taken strong action against Hategan in 2013.

In October that year he attracted criticism for allowing play to continue after Yaya Toure complained of racist abuse in Manchester City's Champions League win at CSKA Moscow.

Then Uefa president Michel Platini ordered an internal probe to ascertain why Hategan did not follow the protocol for dealing with incidents of a racist nature.

International players' union FifPro and anti-racism body Kick It Out both criticised Hategan, with the latter's chairman, Lord Ouseley, saying: "The referee should not be refereeing again."

While Hategan was told to re-read the rules he was allowed to officiate big occasions such as Belarus v France, Germany v Czech Republic and Wales v Austria World Cup 2018 qualifiers.

He was at the 2016 Rio Olympics, taking charge of Brazil v Iran and Brazil v Honduras, but now it looks certain that his future appointments will be lower profile and the World Cup is out of his reach. Not a tear will be shed in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph

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