Referee who gave Switzerland controversial penalty in World Cup play-off against Northern Ireland has admitted mistake

OVIDIU HATEGAN – the World Cup referee who cost Northern Ireland their place in Russia this summer – has admitted his mistake after being axed for the finals.

The Romanian was in charge of the play-off first leg at Windsor Park in November when he awarded the Swiss a controversial penalty.

The official decided Corry Evans blocked a goal-bound shot with his arm but replays have proven the ball was deflected away with the midfielder’s legal shoulder.

Ricardo Rodriguez scored the spot-kick to secure a 1-0 away win and the return in Switzerland – with German officials – ended in a stalemate and a gutting Ireland exit.

Hategan has since been dropped from the list of 36 referees Fifa has selected to go to the tournament.

And he admits his high-profile error, that cost Michael O’Neill and his side a place on football’s biggest stage, could have cost him his own spot there.

Hategan said: "It was a sad and unpleasant moment for me, sad because I made that mistake. Unfortunately I'm not among the 36, but I'll see if I'm going to be a video referee.

"Surely it has had a big influence and what happened in the play-off game. It's not a secret and I'm not hiding behind words.

"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 were there for me.”

After the heart-breaking match, O’Neill was scathing when asked if it was the worst refereeing decision he had ever seen.

He said: “Certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no. It is staggering.

"The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident.

“Corry’s arm is not above his head or in an unnatural position, it’s not away from his body and the ball didn’t even hit him in the arm.

“It doesn’t qualify for any of the criteria for handball in the box.”” target=”_blank” title=”Click to share on Twitter

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