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'We're bringing on Jordan Jones - at Kilmarnock. They're bringing on a £20 million player'

Michael O’Neill admitted the manner of the play-off defeat to Switzerland was tough to take but he was quick to praise his side’s campaign.

Image: Niall Carson

A CONTROVERSIAL FIRST-LEG penalty proved decisive as Switzerland held Northern Ireland to a scoreless draw in Basel to advance to next summer’s World Cup and NI boss Michael O’Neill has admitted the manner of defeat was tough to stomach.

It’s a very, very sore way to lose,” O’Neill said

“Of course it is. The referee was very poor in the first leg, as we know. He got the red card wrong, he got the penalty wrong. The referee tonight was very good. It was a difficult situation and it showed you the difference. We deserved to be still playing now in extra-time but it hasn’t happened for us and we have to move on.”

It was Ricardo Rodriguez who stepped up in Belfast and converted from the spot after Corry Evans was inexplicably adjudged to have handled in the area.

And, to rub salt in the wounds, Rodriguez again played a crucial role at St Jakob-Park.

Deep in injury-time and with the guests needing a goal to force extra-time, Jonny Evans’ header seemed destined to hit the net until Rodriguez made a goal-line clearance.

Northern Ireland were bright and offered plenty and can count themselves incredibly unfortunate not to be going to Russia after another solid qualification campaign.

O’Neill, who wouldn’t be drawn on his own future, was quick to point to the gulf between the two sides and what that said about his team’s character and spirit.

“There’s a devastated bunch of players in there but I couldn’t be any more proud of their efforts,” he said.

You’ve got to be realistic. We’re bringing on Jordan Jones, who’s playing at Kilmarnock. They’re bringing on a £20 million player.

What these players have done to be at this stage of the competition, to take a team like Switzerland to the final minute over two legs is an amazing achievement by this group of players. They’ll have some regrets about the first leg but if it wasn’t for the penalty, we’d have drawn the first leg 0-0. We would still be playing extra-time. They can be proud of their efforts.

“We don’t always have top-level players but we’ve got top-level characters and you saw that tonight.”

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Controversial first-leg penalty costs Northern Ireland as they fall short against the Swiss

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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