Rarely do you see a referee at international level make one glaring major error in a game, let alone two. It was Northern Ireland’s ill luck to encounter such an unfortunate scenario in their World Cup qualifier with Switzerland.
Referee Ovidiu Hategan produced two surprises, nasty surprises in this crucial first leg play-off game.
The first was his reaction to a reckless challenge with excessive force that clearly endangered the safety of an opponent. Instead of producing a red card for Switzerland’s Fabian Schar, he showed weakness by pulling out of his pocket a yellow.
Referees must ensure that challenges of this nature are punished correctly in order to send out a clear signal of the responsibility of a player towards his opponent, in this case Stuart Dallas.
Yes, the game was dominated by Switzerland on the night in Belfast, but sadly the result also hinged on another crucial decision with the Romanian referee judging that a Northern Ireland player had deliberately handled the ball.
However, it was clear on replays that the criteria for handball – against Corry Evans – had not been fulfilled.
The defender jumped and turned his back towards his opponent in order to defend a snap shot from a short distance.
Evans’ arm was by his side when the ball struck.
It was NOT a deliberate handball and to the amazement of everyone the biggest and disappointing surprise of the night was the referee pointing to the penalty mark.
Oh dear, at this level no referee wants to deliver such a massive error.
Once again these incidents cemented the claims for the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee.
However, VAR will only operate accurately if the selected VAR official is a top performing former or current experienced referee with a great deal of international experience.