BELFAST (Northern Ireland) • Michael O'Neill described the penalty that condemned Northern Ireland to a 1-0 defeat by Switzerland as the worst decision he has seen at international level and a motivation for tomorrow's World Cup play-off return leg.
Xherdan Shaqiri's volley struck Corry Evans on the shoulder but Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded a penalty for deliberate handball. Defender Ricardo Rodriguez converted the spot kick, giving the Swiss a crucial away goal.
O'Neill was incensed after the game, with his anger also fuelled by the referee's refusal to dismiss Fabian Schar for a dangerous foul on Stuart Dallas in the fifth minute.
Asked whether he had witnessed a worse decision during his time in management, the Northern Ireland coach replied: "Certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. It is staggering.
"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 in the box.
"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."
Shaqiri said that he did not know whether it was a penalty or not but felt the result was just reward for their dominance.
The Swiss had 65 per cent possession and recorded two shots on target from 16 efforts at goal. The hosts took five shots but did not force Yann Sommer into a save.
"We controlled the game over 90 minutes, had a lot of possession and created chances," Stoke City winger Shaqiri said. "We played much better than Northern Ireland and deserved to win."
Evans will be suspended for the second leg in Basel as a consequence of his booking over the penalty incident. Dallas is also doubtful with an ankle injury inflicted by Schar, who was shown only a yellow card by the referee.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS