Controversial Switzerland penalty dents Northern Ireland hopes
World Cup qualifying play-off, Windsor Park - Northern Ireland 0 Switzerland 1 (Rodriguez 58')
Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualification hopes suffered a huge blow as they lost 1-0 to Switzerland following a controversial penalty.
Ricardo Rodriguez duly scored to give Michael O’Neill’s men an uphill task in the return leg on Sunday in Basel.
Ricardo Rodriguez of Switzerland scores his sides first goal during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Northern Ireland and Switzerland at Windsor Park on November 9, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Getty Images
Northern Ireland had finished second to Germany in Group C and came into the game on a great run of form at home having only lost once in four years. However, they were outplayed on the night by a superior Switzerland side denied an automatic place in the finals after defeat on the last day to European champions Portugal.
Haris Seferovic went closest for the visitors in the first half while Shaqiri grazed the top of the crossbar almost immediately after the restart.
Josh Magennis missed the target when presented with a decent opportunity, but that was the closest Northern Ireland came and now they have a mountain to climb to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in over 30 years.
Steven Davis of Northern Ireland and Granit Xhaka of Switzerland in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg between Northern Ireland and Switzerland at Windsor Park on November 9, 2017 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.Getty Images
THAT refereeing decision: Romanian referee Ovidiu Haţegan did not appear to have a clear view when Shaqiri’s volley was blocked by Corry Evans. On closer inspection, the ball seemed to strike the shoulder of the Blackburn defender, rather than his arm. Evans was only a couple of yards away when Shaqiri unloaded so it clearly wasn’t deliberate, either.
Northern Ireland weren’t good enough on the night – they didn't register a shot on target – but goalkeeper Michael McGovern didn’t really have a save to make despite Switzerland's dominance. This refereeing decision may have cost the Green and White Army dearly.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Stephan Lichtsteiner (Switzerland): The Juventus wing-back worked the channels fantastically. Was a constant support to Shaqiri, making overlapping runs and providing dangerous crosses for his team-mates.
Switzerland: Sommer 6, Lichtsteiner 8, Akanji 7, Rodriguez 7, Schar 7, Xhaka 7, Zuber 7, Dzemaili 7, Zakaria 7 Shaqiri 8, Seferovic 7. Subs: Frei N/A, Embolo 5, Mehmedi N/A.
9’ - CLOSE! A let off for Northern Ireland - Rodriguez finds Dzemaili whose goal-bound shot is bravely blocked by Evans! The loose ball sits up for Xhaka who curls the ball just over the bar.
17’ - SAVE! A wonderful first-time pin-point cross from Shaqiri finds Seferovic who gets the better of McAuley and pokes a shot at goal, but McGovern does well to smother the ball on the second attempt.
46’ - INCHES WIDE! Brunt fails to clear convincingly from Rodriguez's cross and the ball falls kindly to Shaqiri who curls his left-footed effort inches over the bar. The finest of margins – that's the closest we have come to an opener.
56’- PENALTY TO SWITZERLAND! Shaqiri's first-time volley strikes Corry Evans and the referee points to the spot. Very dubious.
58’ - GOAL! RODRIGUEZ SCORES! Rodriguez sends McGovern the wrong way as he drills the ball into the bottom corner. It is very cruel on Northern Ireland.
Kyle Lafferty of Northern Ireland and Danis Zakaria of Switzerland in action during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-OffGetty Images
70’ - WIDE! Brunt's cross is dangerous, but Magennis – left unmarked – can't direct his header on target. That was a great chance for the hosts!
- Northern Ireland have conceded in back-to-back home games for the first time since October 2015, after a run of keeping eight clean sheets in nine games.
- Northern Ireland suffer a third successive defeat following their record run of five successive competitive wins without conceding a goal
- In the first half, Granit Xhaka (41) completed eight more passes in Northern Ireland's half than the entire Green and White Army (33) completed in Switzerland's.
- This was the fifth meeting between these two countries, with Northern Ireland winning twice (D1 L2).