Northern Ireland manager Kenny Shiels has described UEFA’s decision to appoint a Nordic referee for his team’s Euro 2022 clash against Norway as a “boo-boo” after a 4-1 thrashing at Southampton. .
During a bizarre post-match press conference, Shiels appeared to take issue with Finnish official Lina Lehtovaara awarding the Norwegians a first-half penalty after the VAR flagged Nadene Caldwell’s handball.
The 66-year-old accepted the decision to shoot from the penalty spot, converted by Caroline Graham Hansen to make it 3-0, was “probably” correct, but still questioned Lehtovaara’s suitability for the Group A match.
Asked to clarify his peculiar complaint, he later dismissed the concerns as a “passing comment” and told reporters to “not worry about it”.
“We made mistakes, we were down 2-0 and then they get a penalty where the ball hits the player in the upper arm and the Nordic referee, who was refereeing a match involving a Nordic team, awarded the penalty,” Shiels said.
“But I’m not saying for a minute that it was because she was the referee. I’m just saying those stats were there and they made it very difficult for him to referee and UEFA is very precise and tells you what to do and they are so exact that I think that was a boo.
“But most referees under the new rule probably would have given it anyway, but I’m just saying it was tough for us.”
Asked directly if Lehtovaara was an unsuitable selection, he replied: “I don’t blame that for our loss in any way, but I’m just saying I don’t think we should talk about it too much because it’s a side event.
“I’m just talking to you as people; people with the same kinds of feelings that we all have.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just a passing comment, so don’t worry about it.”
Hansen’s penalty coupled with early goals from Julie Blakstad and Frida Maanum before Guro Reiten’s free kick ensured that Northern Ireland’s first appearance in a major tournament would end in defeat after consolation from Julie Nelson.
A difficult night for the lowest-ranked team in the competition was compounded by forward Simone Magill walking off the pitch in tears due to a knee injury, with Shiels fearing the worst.
“Our thoughts are focused on Simone Magill,” he said.
It’s your knee. I’m a football coach, not a doctor, but I don’t think the signs are good.”
Norway, winners of this competition in 1987 and 1993, leveled on points with hosts England after overcoming underdogs Shiels.
Man of the match Hansen was relieved to get off to a winning start after painful memories of Norway’s dismal European Championship campaign five years ago.
“The last European Championship was a disaster for us, we didn’t even score a goal, we went home after the group stage, so being able to bounce back and get off to a good start was important for everyone,” the 27-year-old said. old Barcelona star.
“I think everyone who was there in 2017 was relieved today when we scored the first goal.
“It’s a shame that in the end we didn’t get one or two more on the scoresheet because I think we deserved it, but if everything was perfect in the first game it would be too good to be true, so it’s normal that we have some things in the to work”.