AN international footballer has apologised after his wife launched a foul-mouthed social media tirade against the referee who gave a controversial penalty against her husband in a World Cup play-off game.

Lisa Evans took to Twitter calling Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan a 'Romanian gypsy ****' after he adjudged Blackburn Rovers star Corry Evans had committed a handball in Northern Ireland's first leg match against Switzerland, which the Irish eventually lost 1-0.

Replays showed Xherdan Shaqiri's shot clearly hit Evans on the shoulder, and he was also booked by Hategan, which means he will miss the crucial second leg.

The Tweet read: "Romanian gyspy ****!!! And to think Northern Ireland has probably homed one of his smelly relatives!! Ungrateful ****. Anyway Onwards and Upwards #GAWA."

But Evans defended his wife in a statement. He said: "On behalf of my wife, I would like to apologise unreservedly for the content and language contained in the Tweet she issued last night.

"The comments were in the heat of the moment and are not representative of her views."

But the Rovers star was furious about the decision, which could cost him is World Cup dream.

He said: "It was disgraceful," he said. "I clearly didn't put my hand up. I know it hit me on the back of the shoulder and I'm just absolutely gutted."

Northern Ireland defender Jonny Evans, Corry's brother, claimed Hategan's call in Belfast was 'worse' because he interpreted something differently rather than failing to spot it.

He said: "It was actually a worse decision because the ref has made a call that was not there.

"It's different if he didn't see it. He's claimed he saw something that didn't happen which is the hardest part to take about it."

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill was also angry. Asked if he had ever seen a worse decision, O'Neill replied: "Well certainly not in any of the games that I have been involved in, particularly at this level, no.

"It is staggering to see. The ball clearly strikes Corry on the back and the referee has a clear view of the incident. I expected him to give an offside or a corner.

"And to book (Corry Evans) as well! If the linesman thinks it's a penalty he should indicate that. You could tell even from the Swiss players, there was a reaction of surprise that they had been given a penalty.

"Corry's arm is not above his head or in an unnatural position, it's not away from his body and the ball didn't even hit him in the arm. It doesn't qualify for any of the criteria you are looking for for a handball in the box."