It’s always disappointing when the referee is the main talking point from any game and unfortunately this was the case last Thursday.
Northern Ireland will feel heavily aggrieved after German ref, Felix Brych, awarded Switzerland a highly controversial penalty in the first leg of their World Cup playoff at Winsor Park. In the 57th minute of the second half, Brych pointed to the spot after he adjudged Corey Evans to have handled the ball in the area.
Replays later showed that the ball clearly struck his shoulder which incensed Michael O’Neill and his players. After the goal, the Northerners threw everything they had at the Swiss but couldn’t find a way through and disappointingly didn’t even have a shot on target.
After the game, all the analysis centred on the big decision in the second half. O’Neill and the Northern Ireland players were clearly and obviously very annoyed when speaking to journalists after the game.
Colin Murray, a BBC commentator, launched a scathing attack on how little teams are often overlooked and never get the fair treatment that they deserve.
He refers back to how the Republic of Ireland fell at the hands of Thierry Henry and his blatant handball in 2009 at the Stade de France. Henry, not once but twice handled the ball in the area which directly led to William Gallas’ winner that sent “Les Blues” to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The decision by Felix Brych is just as heart breaking for the Northern Irish faithful. Michael O’Neill spoke of how that decision could act as a massive motivation in their second leg in Basel. Chris Brunt and his side put in one of their best performances in recent times but ultimately came up short against a quite formidable Swiss side led by the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Ricardo Rodriguez.
Fans spoke after the game of how proud they are of the national side and of manager, Michael O’Neill. The former Shamrock Rovers man took over when the national side were ranked 129th in the world. Amazingly, now they sit 20th in the latest FIFA world rankings. Rumours are circling that he will become the next Rangers manager.
Croatia and Modric book their place at Russia 2018!
Croatia did all the damage in the first leg of the 2018 World Cup playoff against Greece, where they came away with a resounding 4-1 win at the Stadion Maksimir in Zagreb.
Two goals in a six minute period put the eastern Europeans well on their way to victory. Centre-back, Sokratis, did manage to pull one back for the Greeks but Inter winger, Ivan Perisic, finished off a swift move to reinstate their two goal lead.
Early in the second half, the former Leicester striker and current Hoffenheim frontman, Andrej Kramaric made sure of the win and qualification with a lovely strike. The return fixture was very different.
A dour 0-0 draw was enough for Croatia to book a place at their fifth FIFA World Cup. There was very little goal mouth action as the Greeks tried to pile on the pressure only to see one shot on target in the entire game.
Ivan Perisic did manage to rattle to post from 30 yards in the only bit of real quality in an overall dour game.
Greece were much improved from the side called an “unprecedented disgrace” by domestic media in the first leg – but never looked like mounting a comeback.
They should have had a penalty early on when Ivan Strinic fouled Zeca, but Croatia were instead awarded a free-kick. Dimitrios Pelkas put the ball into an empty net late on, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
After Croatia failed to quality automatically for the World Cup they decided to make a drastic decision in sacking manager Ante Cacic and replace him with Zlatko Dalic.
The decision was made two days before their last group stage game but it seems the decision of the Croatian F.A has paid off. Dalic is yet to sign an official contract but he looks certain to get his dream job leading into a world cup cycle.