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Sunday 20 May 2018

North fume at Swiss penalty in play-off defeat

N Ireland 0 Switzerland 1

Northern Ireland’s Chris Brunt reacts after Corry Evans conceded a penalty for handball during the 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off first leg match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Northern Ireland’s Chris Brunt reacts after Corry Evans conceded a penalty for handball during the 2018 World Cup qualifying play-off first leg match at Windsor Park, Belfast. Photo: Niall Carson/PA

Northern Ireland experienced their own Thierry Henry moment in a World Cup play-off as Switzerland gained the upper hand in Belfast with a controversially-awarded penalty.

Eight years after Henry handled in the build-up to the goal which sent France through against the Republic of Ireland, referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded a penalty in Belfast when he ruled Xherdan Shaqiri's volley struck Corry Evans' arm, which was tucked into his side, as he turned his body from close range.

Ricardo Rodriguez converted the spot-kick in the 58th minute to give the visitors an away goal, and a 1-0 lead ahead of Sunday's return leg in Basel, where Michael O'Neill's men have it all to do.

They will be driven on there by a sense of injustice because of a decision that may well have been overturned had a video referee, which is being trialled in England's friendly with Germany tonight, been in place.

The hosts had reached this stage in large part thanks to two big home victories over Norway and Czech Republic, when O'Neill's men scored two early goals on both occasions.

That was the template to follow but the Swiss were not shocked by their surroundings like those two visiting nations and soon took control, with Arsenal's Granit Xhaka rifling two good attempts from the edge of the box off target.

Northern Ireland looked too deep, and were getting little help from the recalled Kyle Lafferty in terms of an outlet.

Switzerland got behind their defence in the 18th minute, Haris Seferovic stretching to reach Shaqiri's terrific pass over the top and poke a volley that Michael McGovern had to claw away.

Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis (right) and Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez battle for the ball at Windsor Park. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Northern Ireland's Josh Magennis (right) and Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez battle for the ball at Windsor Park. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Seferovic then somehow failed to prod Dzemaili's drive across the six-yard box but it was not long before the Swiss finally found a way through, even if it was shrouded in controversy.

Shaqiri's viciously-hit volley cannoned into Corry Evans tucked-in arm as he swivelled in the box and the Blackburn midfielder, along with the majority of those inside Windsor Park, were in disbelief, when a penalty was given.

Rodriguez sent McGovern the wrong way with the spot-kick.

Northern Ireland could not muster a reply, and referee Hategan ignored their own hopeful spot-kick appeals when Magennis pass back across the box hit Rodriguez, leaving them with a mountain to climb in Basel on Sunday.

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