Northern Ireland were dealt a big blow in their quest for World Cup football.

Xherdan Shaqiri reacts to Switzerland's controversial win over Northern Ireland

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Xherdan Shaqiri called Switzerland’s night in Belfast “perfect”, but was shocked by the penalty that gave them the advantage in their World Cup play-off with Northern Ireland.

The Swiss are well placed to make it to Russia next summer, having won the first leg at Windsor Park 1-0 with a contentious spot-kick that Ricardo Rodriguez converted.

It was Shaqiri’s effort that Blackburn midfielder Corry Evans was adjudged to have handled in the eyes of referee Ovidiu Hategan.

Northern Ireland were incensed as replays showed it may have actually struck Evans, who was close to the shot, in the back as he turned with his arms tucked in, and Shaqiri did not even appeal for a penalty.

“It’s difficult to say after the game – I didn’t see the position from where I was,” the Stoke winger explained.

“I was surprised also that the referee gave a penalty. I don’t know what happens in this situation, I try to shoot and someone blocks my shot. I will need to see it again. But the referee gives the penalty and this is football.

“I didn’t know. The other players appealed, but it was difficult to see what happened, I tried to shoot and someone was in front of me.”

While Northern Ireland were left feeling aggrieved, the Swiss thought the victory, however it was achieved, was a fair reflection of their domination.

Indeed, the hosts did not register a shot on target and Haris Seferovic and Shaqiri both came close before the penalty was awarded.

Northern Ireland v Switzerland - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg

“I’m very pleased with the performance,” Shaqiri added.

“I know how tough it is to play here, so many teams have struggled here before. I’m very proud of the team that we took maybe the best result that we could get here.

“It was a clean sheet and we scored once – that’s perfect for us.”

No European team has ever qualified for the World Cup via the play-offs after losing the opening leg at home, highlighting the magnitude of the task awaiting the Northern Irish in Basel.

And Shaqiri knows they will need to be bolder than they were at Windsor Park.

Northern Ireland v Switzerland - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Play-Off: First Leg

“I think Northern Ireland didn’t do enough to score because we played very well,” he said.

“We kept the ball for 90 minutes and we had more possession, we tried to create more chances and in the end we deserved to win.

“They took a lot of points at home, so it is going to be very difficult to come to Basel and play more offensively than they did.

“They need to score to try and qualify. When they try to play offensively it’s going to be more open for us to score. They have to be play more offensively.”

Corry Evans
UEFA Champions League
Jonny Evans
World Cup

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