Belfast Telegraph

Michael O'Neill: We'll channel our anger to make us stronger

 

By Paul Ferguson

Michael O'Neill has admitted Northern Ireland have arrived in Basel as the 'victim' of an injustice in the prestigious World Cup play-offs.

Switzerland were awarded a controversial penalty by Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan in the second half of the first leg on Thursday night at Windsor Park.

Hategan pointed to the spot and cautioned Corry Evans as he felt the Blackburn Rovers man had used his arm to prevent a Xherdan Shaqiri shot going towards goal. Replays proved the Stoke City star's effort struck the back of the 27 year-old.

The Northern Ireland players were bitterly disappointed with the decision, however O'Neill believes his players will use that frustration to bounce back in this tie as they look to reach the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.

"They will be fine," concedes O'Neill. "We have enough time to refocus and there was clearly anger on the pitch and I was a little bit concerned with eight players on bookings, it would have been easy to get another one, but it's ironic that Corry is booked for that and now misses the second leg as well.

"We go into the second leg with the strongest team we have available and I think we showed enough in the second half to show we can get something. We have nothing to lose now. We are a little bit of a victim and we have to use it in that way and we will see how the Swiss deal with it on their home territory."

Stuart Dallas was on crutches yesterday as he flew out from Belfast with the rest of his international team-mates, suffering the effect of a late, reckless challenge from Fabian Schar. But it is understood the walking aids are only a precaution.

However Jamie Ward, who impressed with his second half cameo role, could come in for the Leeds United winger and Millwall's George Saville is expected to take the place of Corry Evans in midfield.

Up front, Conor Washington, with his performance when he came on as a sub in the second half against the Swiss, is pushing O'Neill hard to include him from the start instead of Hearts hero Kyle Lafferty.

"I don't have to pick them up," says O'Neill defiantly. "You can tell there is anger in the dressing room. They feel very aggrieved about what has happened. They know at times, particularly in the first half, we could have played better but we dug in, we stayed in the game and they still believe they are in the tie.

"You know it is not as if we are in Basel with very little to play for. We are going to have to find a way to get a goal back but I believe we are capable of doing that," he added.

The Irish FA revealed yesterday that they have no right to appeal to Fifa regarding Corry Evans' yellow card and they received an email from football's world governing body to say that the younger Evans brother would be banned tomorrow night.

Corry Evans though is in Basel and will be cheering on his international team-mates from a seat in the St Jakob Park stadium stands.

The Irish FA are expecting over 2,000 Northern Ireland fans to travel to the Swiss city for the game but only 1,800 have tickets for the match. However, it is understood some fans have managed to purchase tickets in the 'home' end.

Switzerland vs N Ireland

World Cup Play-Off Second Leg

St-Jakob Park, Tomorrow, 5.00pm

Belfast Telegraph

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