Northern Ireland (NI) have a huge mountain to climb if they are going to qualify for their first World Cup in 32 years after a controversial penalty decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan gave Switzerland a 1-0 lead in their first leg clash in Belfast.
Midfielder Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled in the box with AC Milan star Ricardo Rodriguez converting the resulting 58th minute penalty to give Switzerland a priceless away goal in the quest to qualify for a 4th successive World Cup tournament.
NI manager and his players were left to rue that costly decision after replays showed that the ball hit the back of Corry Evans meaning that they have to produce a big result in the second leg on Sunday to have a chance of making their first World Cup since the 1986 edition in Mexico.
In the other playoff match on Thursday night, Croatia capitalised on a woeful defensive display from Greece to earn a dominant 4-1 lead ahead of the second leg in Athens.
Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric converted a 13th minute penalty to give Croatia the lead before Nikola Kalinic added a second goal six minutes later for the hosts. Sokratis Papasthathopoulos pulled one back for Greece but strikes from Ivan Perisic and Andrej Kramaric either side of halftime gave the home side a commanding lead.
Croatia already have one foot at next year’s World Cup in Russia by virtue of that result while Switzerland are not far behind after a woeful display from Romanian centre referee Hategan.