Northern Ireland’s World Cup dream may have been dashed in controversial fashion after Switzerland claimed a 1-0 success in the first leg of their play-off at Windsor Park.

Referee Ovidiu Hategan awarded a penalty for a handball when Corry Evans was struck on the back of the shoulder at point-blank range by Xherdan Shaqiri’s volley as he turned his back.

Ricardo Rodriguez’s successful conversion of the spot-kick proved to be the only goal of the night and leaves the Northern Irish with a mountain to climb in the return leg in Basel on Sunday.

What they said

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill: “It is staggering to see. The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I thought he had given an offside or something. You could tell even from the Swiss players, there was a reaction of surprise that they had been given a penalty for an incident like that.”Switzerland boss Vladimir Petkovic: “You could decide it’s a penalty but you can’t cry if it’s not given, it’s not a definite penalty. After all we deserved to win, only because of our lack of finishing do we talk about this penalty.”

Tweet of the match

Star man – Xherdan Shaqiri

Xherdan Shaqiri, left(Niall Carson/PA)

The Stoke forward was Switzerland’s biggest threat and it was his strike that allowed Rodriguez to put Switzerland on course for the finals, rightly or wrongly. He laid on a first-half chance for Haris Seferovic with a glorious ball and bent an attempt narrowly over the bar just after the restart as he underlined his quality.

Moment of the match

The hosts were hanging in there when Hategan made a huge call just before the hour mark. Evans got in the way of Shaqiri’s volley from the edge of the area but was adjudged to have handled. Not only did Rodriguez convert the spot-kick to leave Switzerland in charge of the tie, but Evans will miss the second leg through suspension after receiving a yellow card. Coupled with the early decision not to send off Fabian Schar for a wild challenge on Stuart Dallas, Northern Ireland will rightly leave Windsor Park aggrieved.

Slick Swiss

Switzerland displayed their technical ability throughout a tense first leg. With the likes of Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka pulling the strings, it is easy to see how the Swiss had won nine out of nine before being denied an automatic spot in Russia by Portugal in their final group game. Yet despite the chasm in quality, the visitors had been kept at arm’s lengthy by a disciplined Northern Ireland until Hategan’s intervention.

Ratings

Northern Ireland: Michael McGovern 6, Conor McLaughlin 6, Jonny Evans 7, Gareth McAuley 7, Chris Brunt 6, Steven Davis 6, Corry Evans 6, Ollie Norwood 6, Stuart Dallas 6, Josh Magennis 5, Kyle Lafferty 5. Substitutes: Jamie Ward (for Dallas, 52) 6, George Saville (for Evans, 65) 6, Conor Washington (for Lafferty, 77) 6.Switzerland: Yann Sommer 6, Stephan Lichtsteiner 6, Manuel Akanji 6, Fabian Schar 5, Ricardo Rodriguez 7, Granit Xhaka 7, Denis Zakaria 7, Blerim Dzemaili 6, Steven Zuber 7, Xherdan Shaqiri 7, Haris Seferovic 6. Substitutes: Breel Embolo (for Seferovic, 77) 6, Fabian Frei (for Dzemaili, 83) 6, Admir Mehmedi (for Zuber, 87) N/A.

Next meeting

Switzerland players celebrate their goal(Niall Carson/PA)

Switzerland v Northern Ireland (World Cup play-off second leg, November 12).