Michael O’Neill believes it is time for video assistant referees to be brought into the game after seeing his Northern Ireland side defeated by a controversial penalty decision.
As they look to qualify for their first World Cup Finals since 1986, Northern Ireland face an uphill task after losing 1-0 at home to Switzerland in the playoff first leg. That the goal was scored in controversial fashion makes the loss all the worse, and O’Neill was justifiably incensed after the game.
The visitors have the advantage going into the second leg thanks to a penalty scored by Ricardo Rodrigues, and awarded after Xherdan Shaqiri’s volley struck Corry Evans on the back; however, Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan felt the ball had struck the defender’s arm.
“It is staggering,” O’Neill said. “The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. Corry’s arm is not above his head or in an unnatural position, it’s not away from his body and the ball didn’t even hit him in the arm. It doesn’t qualify for any of the criteria for handball.
“I spent three hours with Uefa on video assistant referees and when you see tonight you would certainly be an advocate of it. VARs would have cleared it up and said it’s clearly not a pen. We have to deal with the decision and put it to the back of our minds and use it as a motivation for Sunday night.”
To make matters worse for O’Neill, he will be without Evans for the second leg as his booking for the penalty incident means he is suspended for the return. In the other playoff match on Thursday, Croatia took a commanding lead as they brushed aside Greece 4-1 at the Stadion Maksimir.