The Irish Mail on Sunday - - SPORTS -

NORTH­ERN IRE­LAND were al­ways go­ing to be up against it fac­ing Switzer­land in the play-offs and ref­eree Ovidiu Hategan has made it even tougher for Michael O’Neill’s side.

When it came to the de­ci­sive hand­ball de­ci­sion, Hategan (left) guessed. He can­not have seen it, be­cause it was not hand­ball. Shaqiri’s shot doesn’t hit Corry Evans’ arm. The ref guessed and it was a poor de­ci­sion.

It’s an­other case of a ref­eree try­ing to claim the lime­light, be­cause if he had got the de­ci­sion right, ev­ery­one would be telling him how won­der­ful he is.

But the Ro­ma­nian of­fi­cial got it wrong and now he looks a fool who has in­flu­enced such a mas­sive game.

I would much rather ref­er­ees are ab­so­lutely cer­tain about key de­ci­sions like that one, rather than just hop­ing it’s right.

Com­ing on top of the de­ci­sion not to send off Fabian Schar for the shock­ing tackle on Stu­art Dal­las, pre­sum­ably be­cause it was five min­utes in, Mr Hategan just didn’t have a very good night. And nei­ther did North­ern Ire­land.

The best ref­er­ees don’t gam­ble on the big de­ci­sions, but make sure they get them spot on. They get on with the job, stay un­der the radar and don’t go out to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

Like us, North­ern Ire­land don’t of­ten score more than one goal in matches and now they have to go to Basle and win 2-0 to qual­ify for the World Cup Fi­nals for the first time since 1986.

North­ern Ire­land now find them­selves in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion to our­selves in 2009 when we were 1-0 down from the first leg against France at Croke Park and had to go to Paris and score at least one goal.

O’Neill won’t change the game plan for the sec­ond leg and they won’t go chas­ing them game be­cause the tal­ented Swiss will pick them off.

Basle is a tough place to go and win and I fear it will be a long and mis­er­able night for the North, thanks mainly to Mr Hategan.

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