World Cup qualifying: Swiss score controversial win over Northern Ireland
Croatia crushes Greece 4-1 as 1st leg playoffs begin
A penalty awarded for a disputed hand ball gave Switzerland a controversial 1-0 victory over Northern Ireland in the first leg of their World Cup playoff on Thursday in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
A volley by Xherdan Shakiri struck Corey Evans' shoulder as the Northern Ireland midfielder attempted to block the shot. Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan pointed to the spot, sparking angry protests from the Northern Ireland players.
Ricardo Rodriguez duly converted the penalty in the 58th minute, putting the Swiss in the driving seat to qualify for their fourth World Cup in a row.
Boos rang out at the final whistle as home fans directed their ire at the match official.
However, Switzerland dominated the match and gave a master class in one-touch football to pick apart their hosts in the first half, helped by the fact that Northern Ireland afforded them far too much space.
The second leg will be played in Basel, Switzerland on Sunday.
Croatia 4, Greece 1
Croatia took a decisive step toward World Cup qualification Thursday, overwhelming Greece for a 4-1 victory in the first leg of their playoff.
Captain Luka Modric shook off concerns of poor form by opening the scoring from the penalty spot in the 13th minute, before leaping into the air in celebration.
Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi awarded the penalty after Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis failed to control the ball and fouled Nikola Kalinic with a poorly judged clearance.
Kalinic added another goal six minutes later, flicking in a cross from Ivan Strinic with the side of his foot.
Greece struggled to regain composure and rarely attacked, but Sokratis Papastathopoulos briefly silenced the home crowd, sending a header over keeper Danijel Subasic and into the net.
But relief for the visitors was short lived. Ivan Perisic headed in a cross from Sime Vrsaljko in the 33nd minute as the Croats dominated both wings.
The fourth goal came four minutes after the break from Andrej Kramaric, swooping in after another Greek error, by Kostas Stafylidis.
Greece hosts the second leg of the playoff on Sunday.