Belfast Telegraph

Penalty controversy is a 'very sore way to lose' says Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill after World Cup play-off defeat

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill admits losing out to Switzerland care of a contentious penalty decision is a 'very sore way to lose' their World Cup play-off.

Northern Ireland secured a 0-0 draw in Switzerland on Sunday night, going out 1-0 on aggregate, the only goal scored by Ricardo Rodriguez after a contentious penalty decision awarded against Corry Evans for a handball by referee Ovidiu Hategan.

"It's a very, very sore way to lose. Of course it is," O'Neill told Sky Sports in Basel.

"The referee was very poor in the first leg as we know. Got the red card wrong, got the penalty wrong. The referee tonight was very good. It was a difficult situation and it showed you the difference.

"We deserved to be still playing now in extra-time but it hasn't happened for us and we have to move on."

O'Neill also hailed his side's second leg display as Jonny Evans' injury-time header was cleared off the line while Conor Washington went close with a second-half header.

"They couldn't have given anymore," said O'Neill. "What they gave for me and for the country was phenomenal. The performance was magnificent and ultimately we've gone out to a really poor decision in the first leg.

"Our performance tonight as a reaction to what happened was fabulous. We were the better team.

"We had to ride our luck at time but right until the 94th minute, we were fighting to keep the dream alive and go to the World Cup.

"There's a devastated bunch of players in there but I couldn't be any more proud of their efforts.

"You've got to be realistic. We're bringing on Jordan Jones, who's playing at Kilmarnock. They're bringing on a £20 million player.

"What these players have done to be at this stage of the competition, to take a team like Switzerland to the final minute over two legs is an amazing achievement by this group of players.

"They'll have some regrets about the first leg but if it wasn't for the penalty, we'd have drawn the first leg 0-0. We would still be playing extra-time. They can be proud of their efforts.

"We don't always have top level players but we've got top level characters and you saw that tonight. They'll be remembered for their performance tonight and they should be."

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