Saturday 21 October 2017

O'Neill laments freak weather challenge

Rory Dollard

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill believes the "freak weather" that forced the abandonment of his side's World Cup qualifier with Russia would have posed problems for any country.

The Group F clash was originally due to be played on Friday night, but a deluge of snow led to the contest being pushed back to yesterday afternoon.

Continued poor weather overnight meant that always looked to be a decision made in hope rather than expectation, but FIFA regulations state that there must be an attempt to stage delayed fixtures the following day.

As it was, Norwegian referee Tom Hagen and the FIFA match delegates decided to cancel just before 11.0am, having completed further inspections yesterday morning.

The formation of ice on the pitch was the official reason, though spectator safety was also a clear consideration due to the treacherous conditions in and around Windsor Park.

The stadium lacks most of the mod cons synonymous with international football – there is no under-soil heating for a start – but O'Neill feels the extent of the bad weather would have caused headaches for bodies bigger and wealthier than the Irish Football Association.

"We experienced freak weather over a short period of time, from late Thursday and early Friday – freak weather which would have been challenging for any association to get the game on," he said.

"At the end of the day there are more modern stadia that could maybe deal with it but it's the first time in history it has happened (to Northern Ireland), so it's not something we haven't managed well, or have mis-managed over time."

With a second qualifier due to be played against Israel on Tuesday, O'Neill must quickly shift his focus from the Russia saga to that match.

Behind the scenes, negotiations will start over when to play the rearranged Russia match. No decision was possible yesterday, with the visitors heading to London ahead of tomorrow's glamour friendly with Brazil at Stamford Bridge, but discussions will continue.

June is an option likely to be favoured by Russia, who already have on qualifier lined up during that international window, but Northern Ireland are not thought to be in agreement.

Irish Independent

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