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  1. ITV Report

Controversial penalty as Swiss beat NI in Belfast

Northern Ireland were beaten by a controversial penalty. Photo: Pacemaker
  • Northern Ireland 0-1 Switzerland

Controversy reigned at Windsor Park as Northern Ireland lost their World Cup first leg play-off with Switzerland 1-0.

Michael O'Neill's men now have a mountain to climb if they are to clinch one of the nine remaining places at next summer's finals in Russia.

Switzerland will carry a precious one goal advantage into the second leg in Basel on Sunday, they perhaps played well enough for the win, but the penalty award which proved crucial on the night was cruel on NI.

There will be little time to reflect on what might have been, manager O'Neill and his players are not out of it, a slender chance still remains, but they will have to produce another mammoth effort to achieve their dream.

  • WATCH: Michael O'Neill reacts to that controversial penalty:

The visitors almost silenced the home fans on 11 minutes with a great chance to break the ice.

A nod down by Seferovic found Dzemaili, his shot was blocked by Jonny Evans with the rebound hit just over the bar by Xhaka.

It was Xhaka again with the next effort on goal, again his shot sailing over the bar.

The confident start by the Swiss was halted briefly on 14 minutes with a half chance falling to Kyle Lafferty, his effort blocked.

Credit: Pacemaker

Michael McGovern produced a world class save on 19 minutes to deny a certain goal.

A great ball in by Shaqiri saw Seferovic stick out a boot only for McGovern to get down and clear for a corner.

Northern Ireland were struggling to take command and create chances as the slick Swiss dominated possession as they moved the ball about with purpose.

However, despite having so much control the Swiss were unable to find an opening and the scoreless first half will have been of some comfort to manager O’Neill.

Credit: Pacemaker

Jamie Ward came off the bench five minutes into the second half, replacing Stuart Dallas who struggled to shake off an injury sustained following a rash challenge by Schar in the early stages of the game.

The Swiss missed another great chance to take the lead on 55 minutes, Seferovic inches away from stabbing the ball home from close range after a great ball in by Dzemaili.

Then came the turning point on 57 minutes when referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded a penalty after a volley by Shaqiri hit Corry Evans as he turned his back to the ball.

Despite Northern Ireland protests the penalty stood and Evans was shown a yellow card which rules him out of the game on Sunday.

Rodriguez stepped up and sent McGovern the wrong way, 1-0 to the Swiss and so harsh on Northern Ireland.

Credit: Pacemaker

O’Neill’s men rose to the challenge and had two chances to draw level as they enjoyed their best period of the game.

First Josh Magennis had a free header when he met a chipped in free-kick from Chris Brunt, but his effort drifted wide.

Then Brunt went for goal from another free-kick moments later, the keeper well beaten as his effort sailed inches past the upright.

With ten minutes to go Northern Ireland had a shout for a penalty when the ball appeared to spin off the arm of Rodriguez from Brunt’s dangerous cross, but nothing was given - ironic given what had happened earlier.

Northern Ireland did not produce the performance they had hoped for, but they did not deserve to be beaten in this manner.

  • WATCH: Captain Steven Davis says it's all still to play for: