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O'Neill bemoans Belfast blow

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-14 07:30

 O'Neill bemoans Belfast blow

Switzerland's Stephan Lichtsteiner beats Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt to a header during Sunday's World Cup qualifying playoff second leg at St Jakob Park in Basel. The match ended 0-0 as the Swiss advanced to the finals 1-0 on aggregate. [Photo/Agencies]

N. Ireland boss haunted by first-leg penalty as Swiss reach WC finals

PARIS - Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill bemoaned the controversial first-leg penalty that saw his side's World Cup dream end with a 1-0 aggregate loss to Switzerland in their playoff on Sunday.

Ricardo Rodriguez's spotkick in Belfast last Thursday proved the difference as the Swiss held off some late pressure from the underdog Northern Irish in the second leg at Basel on a soggy pitch after heavy rain.

O'Neill said his players would still feel hard done by over the decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan in the previous match to award Switzerland a penalty when Xherdan Shaqiri's volley struck Corry Evans on the shoulder from point-blank range.

"Ultimately we've gone out to a poor decision in the first leg," he told Sky Sports.

"If it wasn't for the penalty we'd be playing extra time. The players will be remembered for their performance tonight.

"It's a very sore way to lose. We have to move on."

Despite the controversy surrounding the winning goal, which saw Evans have to apologize for his wife's rant on Twitter in which she called the referee a "Romanian gypsy", Switzerland was the better side over the two legs as it booked its spot at a fourth straight World Cup.

Vladimir Petkovic's Swiss side wasted a host of chances in the first half, with striker Haris Seferovic the main offender. At the opposite end, Rodriguez cleared an injury-time header from Jonny Evans off the line.

"Everyone said it was almost done, but against teams like that it's a fight. I'm very excited we've achieved our goal," goalkeeper Yann Sommer told television channel RTS.

"It's unfortunate that we were not more efficient because it would have been easier.

"It was a difficult match. It was very difficult to play with the pitch and our opponents," said Stoke City midfielder Shaqiri.

"I'm very proud that we have managed to qualify for the whole country."

It was only the second time in the qualifying campaign that Switzerland failed to win, after finishing second to Portugal in Group B despite winning nine of its 10 games.

Croatia seals spot

Meanwhile, Croatia was barely broke a sweat as it eased into the World Cup finals for the fifth time with a scoreless draw with Greece.

Last week's 4-1 first-leg win in Zagreb had done the damage, and the Greeks never threatened to produce any sort of a comeback at home.

Croatia, which fired coach Ante Cacic last month as it finished second behind Iceland in Group I, won its final qualifier against Ukraine 2-0 under new boss Zlatko Dalic to scrape into the playoffs.

But the 1998 semifinalist is now into its fifth finals in six attempts, giving the likes of Real Madrid's Luka Modric and Barcelona's Ivan Rakitic the chance to make up for their group-stage exit in Brazil three years ago.

"We had a good match in Zagreb but it was difficult here," said Dalic.

"The important thing is that we have qualified."

Agence France - presse



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