Northern Ireland: Craigan unimpressed by referee’s play-off error admission

Northern Ireland were stunned by Hategan’s penalty decision in the World Cup play-off first leg

Ex-Northern Ireland defender Stephen Craigan says the referee’s admission he incorrectly awarded Switzerland the decisive penalty in the World Cup play-off in November is “too late”.

Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan has accepted that his handball decision against Corry Evans was wrong.

Ricardo Rodriguez’s penalty was the only goal in the two legs as Switzerland booked a World Cup spot.

“Two months after the event, it’s absolutely pathetic,” said Craigan.

“If he had any guts about him, any gumption about him, it would have been the best time to speak out in the aftermath of the game.

“I’ve seen him also say it’s a sad and unpleasant for him. Well it’s absolutely dreadful for a football nation as small as Northern Ireland.”

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill said he has never seen a worse decision in a game he has been involved in

Replays showed ball hit Evans’ shoulder

Hategan ruled that Evans blocked a shot with his arm during the first leg, despite replays showing the ball struck the player’s shoulder.

The Romanian accepts his mistake at Windsor Park may have played a part in his omission from the 36-strong list of referees who will officiate at the World Cup finals in Russia.

“It was a sad and unpleasant moment for me, sad because I made that mistake,” Hategan told Romanian media.

Hategan is still hoping to work as a video referee at the tournament but Craigan, who won 54 Northern Ireland caps between 2003 and 2011, believes the Romanian should not be employed in any capacity in Russia.

“It’s almost like rubbing the noses of the Northern Ireland players, supporters, public, in it,” Craigan told BBC 5 Live Drive.

“The emotions are still here because it was so close. We worked so hard to get there and almost feels like a kick in the teeth today.”

Senior players World Cup hopes over – Craigan

Craigan believes the senior players in the Northern Ireland squad will find Hategan’s admission hard to stomach, given they are unlikely to feature in the 2022 World Cup campaign.

“I think they’ll be reacting like myself, particularly the older ones – Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Steven Davis, Aaron Hughes – who might never get the chance to go to a World Cup.

“He may have gained a little bit more respect had he come out in the aftermath and said, ‘do you know what I’ve made a complete mess of this, can someone help me out’.”

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