Former Norther Ireland star David Healy has slammed Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan for his ‘astonishing’ penalty decision which leave the nation’s World Cup hopes hanging by a thread.
Northern Ireland suffered a 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in the first-leg of their play-off at Windor Park on Thursday night, with Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial penalty putting the Swiss in the driving seat of their tie.
The AC Milan star slotted in from the spot after Corry Evans was deemed to have handled inside the area, although replays showed the ball hitting his shoulder, and from point-blank range.
It was a harsh decision and one of many questionable calls from the ref, having earlier waved play-on after Rodriguez appeared to handle in the area.
And Healy has told talkSPORT a more experienced referee should have been in charge for a game of that magnitude.
“I was at the game and the disappointment from fans and Michael O’Neill…
“This is the country’s chance, we haven’t been to a World Cup for over 30 years and coming away last night you feel like the chance has slipped away.
“The decision last night made by the Romanian referee was hugely embarrassing and particularly embarrassing for the people who put him in charge of the game.
“No disrespect to the Romanian leagues but there are French, Italians, Spanish referees available who all referee big games week-in week-out, and they decided to give it to a Romanian referee.
“The decision last night, even if the ref did think it hit his hand, I think Corry Evans was so close to the ball he couldn’t do anything about it.
To give a penalty and a yellow card – we were all astonished.”
Corry Evans (far right) reacts as the referee gives apenalty to Switzerland
Switzerland are now the favourites to reach next summer’s finals in Russia ahead of the second leg in Basel on Sunday.
But Healy hopes Michael O’Neill’s side can channel their disappointment into fuelling a remarkable comeback when they meet again.
“Hopefully they can take their frustrations on board into the next game,” he added.
“We didn’t play great last night, it wasn’t one of our most polished performances, but one thing they always do is they work hard, they’re organised, they’re disciplined, so to be done by a decision like that, Michael will be hugely disappointed.
“But we’re still in there, we’re still fighting. We go there and it’ll be difficult, Switzerland are a good side and I didn’t realise how good they were until we saw them last night, but we’ll go there and give it a right go.
“We can take positives from the game, even though we were nowhere near as good as we can be. Switzerland didn’t slice us open time after time and they didn’t create many great chances, so that will be a positive going into the game on Sunday.”