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Monday 18 December 2017

Liege is 536miles from Dublin and 687miles from Rome... So why are Ireland playing Italy there on June 7?

Daniel McDonnell answers the key questions

Alberto Gilardino celebrates his equaliser for Italy against Ireland in the last meeting between the two teams in October 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Alberto Gilardino celebrates his equaliser for Italy against Ireland in the last meeting between the two teams in October 2009. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Ireland and Italy will meet in unlikely territory on June 7, with the Belgium city of Liege confirmed as the venue for the end-of-season friendly international.

Negotiations have been ongoing for some time, with the responsibility for staging the game falling to an agent who regularly works in tandem with the Italian FA.

The initial plan was for the game to take place in New York, which would have allowed Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni to stick with his plan of organising a training camp with fringe players after the Euro 2012 qualifier in Macedonia on June 4.

Alas, that journey failed to materialise and Trapattoni will now have to make do with just one additional game and training session rather than the original aim which was a week of activities.

Then again, it might have been difficult for the 72-year-old to bring together his favoured players, given that the June international window is unpopular with players and their employers.

So, the Stade Maurice Dufrasne -- the home of Standard Liege -- will play host, a development in line with a growing trend towards international friendlies taking place on neutral soil.

Why is the game not taking place in Ireland or Italy?

This game has been organised by a third party, who takes an approach similar to that of an event organiser staging a gig.

He pays an attendance fee to the acts, incurs some of the other costs, and then looks to make the money back on selling tickets and associated match rights.

If the match took place within the Irish or Italian jurisdiction, then it would effectively become a home friendly for the association in question.

That would weigh heavily in favour of one nation while, logistically, it may not be attractive to either; with a risk factor in terms of the attendance at an inconvenient time of year removed by receiving a flat fee for turning up.

What's it worth for the FAI?

It's understood that the FAI will receive a six-figure fee for their participation in the game.

There are generally two options available for a game organised this way -- the competing association collects a match fee and also get their flights and other costs paid for, or else they simply just get the money and command a higher fee from which they look after their own travel expenses.

Why are Ireland in the frame?

The Giovanni Trapattoni factor helps, as does the fact that Ireland are free while other countries have either competitive or pre-arranged friendly commitments.

Yet the initial attraction of Ireland to the Italian agent was the prospect of a New York encounter which would have energised the respective diaspora.

From that, the FAI asked the agent if he could help organise a second game in America but, ultimately, that entire adventure was scuppered by domestic Italian concerns.

Essentially, the clubs weren't too chuffed about a situation whereby the association would be bringing their players away at the end of a long campaign. With a round of football elections looming over the horizon, the Italian FA officials made a diplomatic call.

However, a relationship with the FAI had been established, with an effective guarantee that Ireland would be part of any game that was arranged.

Why Liege?

There is a large Italian community in parts of Belgium. During the Industrial Revolution, the city was a centre for the steel industry and hordes of Italians moved to the area. In that context, the organiser will be hoping that their descendants turn out in force to make the fixture a worthwhile venture.

The Stade Maurice Dufrasne has a 30,000 capacity, so there should be plenty of tickets to cater for those who want to go.

Will Irish fans travel?

Neutral friendlies in recent years have generally taken place in London (Craven Cottage or the Emirates) or on tours of the United States, so this is a new departure with no obvious Irish link to the area.

Nevertheless, high-profile opposition might encourage fans to stump up and travel to a location which is hardly inaccessible.

Return flights were reasonably priced yesterday, although they are likely to rocket up in the coming days. However, it might be a financial stretch for the hardcore who are already shelling out large sums for the long trip to Skopje for the crucial Euro 2012 qualifier three days previously.

Irish Independent

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