Belfast Telegraph

Watch: Penalty decision was 'staggering' blasts Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

By Gareth Hanna

The decision to award Switzerland a second-half penalty at Windsor Park was 'staggering' according to Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

Ricardo Rodriguez tucked home what turned out to be the winning goal of the World Cup play-off first leg at Windsor Park when referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded a penalty as Corry Evans blocked Xherdan Shaqiri's well-struck shot.

It was a decision that angered O'Neill and the boss later agreed that it is 'unfathomable' for a video assistant referee to be used in this weekend's England v Germany friendly but not in a game as big as a World Cup play-off.

LIVE: Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill reacts to the 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the World Cup play-off first-leg 😐

Posted by Belfast Telegraph Sport on Thursday, November 9, 2017

“I spent three hours in a conference the other week with FIFA on Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology and certainly when you see that you would be an advocate of it," he said.

"I've said all along that VAR should be used for anything which is the defining decision in the game which is clearly what we saw tonight. We clearly saw a penalty given in those circumstances and if you're going to give it, VAR would have cleared that up and said it's not a penalty.

“It hits Corry on the upper shoulder when he has turned his back and the referee has a clear view of the incident.

“Even from the Swiss players there was a reaction of surprise they had been given a penalty.

“Corry’s arm is not above his head, it’s not in an unnatural position, it’s not away from his body and the ball doesn’t even hit him on the arm. It doesn’t qualify on any of the criteria you are looking for a handball in the box.

“To give a penalty in a game of such magnitude for nothing, there’s probably, I would imagine, 10 incidents a game that probably more merit a penalty than the one given but there’s nothing we can do about it now.

“I’m not going to turn around and say it’s the worst decision ever or anything like that but to give a penalty in this situation is staggering when the stakes are so high at this level of the game."

To add to his frustration, O'Neill felt that Switzerland should have been down to 10 men long before the referee pointed to the spot. That was for an early challenge that eventually led to Stuart Dallas leaving the pitch injured. The winger is now 'touch and go' in his race to be fit for Sunday's second leg.

He said: “In terms of the big incidents in the game, the tackle by Fabian Schar (on Stuart Dallas) was out of control and, having seen it back, I feel a red card as he’s out of control with both feet off the ground.

“The referee felt it was only a yellow, I felt it was a red. I've seen the challenge back. At the time, I didn't think it was a red because it was so early in the game but when you see it back, he's out of control, he has both feet off the ground and it's a very clear red card for me."

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