1. ITV Report

O'Neill fuming at penalty as Switzerland beat Northern Ireland

Michael O'Neill was left fuming at the penalty decision. Photo: PA

Michael O'Neill expressed bafflement and anger at the penalty decision which has left Northern Ireland with a mountain to climb to reach their first World Cup in 32 years.

Switzerland claimed a 1-0 lead in the first leg of their play-off at Windsor Park thanks to Ricardo Rodriguez's 58th-minute penalty after referee Ovidiu Hategan adjudged Corry Evans handled Xherdan Shaqiri's strike.

Evans was close to the Stoke playmaker and had his arms tucked in as he turned his back, with replays inconclusive over whether it even struck his arm.

Northern Ireland created little of note in Belfast, and were fortunate the Swiss could not convert their chances, yet will now head to Basel for the second leg seething with a sense of injustice.

Northern Ireland have to beat Denmark in the second-leg. Credit: PA

Asked if he had ever seen a worse decision, O'Neill replied: "Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no.

"It is staggering to see. The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I expected him to give an offside or a corner.

"And to book the player (Evans) as well... I spent three hours in a video conference with FIFA the other week on VAR (video assistant referee) and when you see what happened you would certainly be an advocate of it.

"If the linesman thinks it's a penalty he should indicate that. I don't know what communication goes on between them but you could tell even from the Swiss players, there was a reaction of surprise that they had been given a penalty."

Ricardo Rodriguez scored the penalty. Credit: PA

"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 you are looking for for a handball in the box."

It was the Northern Irish equivalent of the Thierry Henry incident in a play-off eight years ago, when he handled in the build-up to a France goal that sent them to the World Cup instead of the Republic of Ireland.

Video assistance would have clarified both incidents and O'Neill was left bemoaning the absence of VAR a day before one is trialled for the first time in an official game in the UK when England face Germany.

"It's just staggering in this day and age when the stakes are so high that something like that is a game-changer," O'Neill added.

"It should be used for anything that is a defining decision, which is clearly what we saw. A penalty given in those circumstances, VAR would have cleared it up and said it's clearly not a pen."That was not the only call Hategan made that left O'Neill livid.

Fabian Schar's wild fifth-minute lunge on Stuart Dallas was deemed worthy of just a yellow card, but it caused an injury that ended the Leeds winger's night early in the second period and may have ruled him out of the second leg.

"I have seen it back and at the time I didn't think it was red because it was so early in the game," O'Neill said.

"But, when you see it back, he is out of control and he has two feet off the ground, it is a very clear red card for me."