Northern Ireland's Chris Brunt calls for VAR to improve decisions
THE devastation and disappointment of missing out on the World Cup was evident on the faces and in the voices of Northern Ireland players – but especially for Chris Brunt.
A bad knee injury ruled him out of the Euros last year and then Switzerland progressed through the play-off to Russia 2018 thanks to a terrible penalty decision in the first leg.
NI were valiant in the second leg in Basel on Sunday evening but just could not grab a goal to take the tie to extra time, to Brunt's obvious regret:
"To lose over two legs to an horrendous decision sums it up really. We're gutted and we didn't leave anything out there.
"I think VAR [video assistant referees] will have to be brought in, there's too much riding on stuff now.
"For a country like ours to miss out on the World Cup, based on a decision that could have been overturned in 10 seconds…it's going to have to be looked at - just not in time for us."
Comparisons have been drawn with how France progressed past the Republic of Ireland in a World Cup play-off eight years ago, and Brunt referenced that controversy:
"Some of the lads mentioned Thierry Henry and his handball and it's a scenario like that, to miss out on a World Cup because of that. We didn't score any goals over the two legs, so we let ourselves down there, but it wasn't for the want of trying.
"Switzerland have got away with one and you can see by their reaction at the end of the game, they were glad to get that over with. We couldn't ask for anymore and one got kicked off the line at the end. It just wasn't to be."
Northern Ireland's defence is ageing, with Aaron Hughes already 38 and Gareth McAuley reaching that mark next month, while Brunt himself will be 33 in December.
"A few of us are getting on so there will be a few decisions to make over the next few months, but I don't think it's time to say anything about that now. I think everyone is gutted and this is as gutted as I've ever been in my football career.
"Not playing in France and being so close again…But, look, injuries are part and parcel of the game. I was unlucky… You can't look back on that. Hopefully I've still got a couple of years left in me yet."
If some players do retire, or manager Michael O'Neill moves on, Brunt is phlegmatic about such change:
"All good things have to come to an end at some stage. It's been very good the last four or five years under Michael. It's been as enjoyable to be part of this group as any I've been involved in and I've been playing for the last 14 years.
"There have been a lot of dark times, but the last few years have been really good. It would have been nice to top it off with the World Cup, but it wasn't to be".