Referee admits penalty error in Northern Ireland World Cup play-off

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Ovidiu Hategan will now not be among the referees at this summer's World Cup

The referee whose controversial penalty decision ultimately cost Northern Ireland their place at the 2018 World Cup finals has admitted he made a “mistake”.

Romanian Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot after Xherdan Shaqiri had blasted a shot against defender Corry Evans from point-blank range during the first leg of the play-off clash with Switzerland at Windsor Park in November.

Ricardo Rodriguez’s successful spot-kick proved to be the only goal over the two legs, and now Hategan has admitted he got it wrong.

He told Romanian media: “It was a sad and unpleasant moment for me, sad because I made that mistake, painful because with my team, we had good performances.

“In our world, the referees are the same as the goalkeepers – everyone sees the mistake.

“I’ve got over that moment, I’m a strong man. My family was there for me.”

Rodriguez’s penalty secured a 1-0 win in Belfast and the return leg in Basel finished 0-0, sending Switzerland through to this summer’s finals.

Mr Hategan’s decision sparked fury in Northern Ireland with Evans himself later describing it as “disgraceful”, and their protests received popular backing as replays supported claims that the award had been harsh in the extreme.

The official was not included in a list of 36 referees announced for the finals by FIFA in November last year, although he has not yet given up hope of making it to Russia.

He said: “I’m sorry I’m not among the 36. We will see if I have a chance as a video referee.” 

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