Northern Ireland’s World Cup double header in serious doubt
NORTHERN Ireland's World Cup double-header was plunged into uncertainty after tonight's match against Russia was postponed due to heavy snow at Windsor Park.
The match, deemed unplayable after a series of pitch inspections by Norwegian referee Tom Hagen and the FIFA delegates, has been given a revised start time of 3pm tomorrow.
But with more wintry weather expected in the next 24 hours, a second cancellation seems highly likely.
Despite that, FIFA regulations require the hosts to attempt to stage postponed matches the following day and the Irish Football Association will attempt to salvage the fixture.
Officials will reconvene tomorrow at 10.30am, with further meetings and pitch inspections due to take place.
There are also problems looming regarding the Group F qualifier against Israel on Tuesday. Even if a game does take place tomorrow, the effect on the pitch is likely to be such that a second match inside four days will be a near impossibility.
IFA head of communications Geoff Wilson said: "There has to be an attempt to play the game tomorrow because FIFA rules say every effort has to be made to play the game the day after postponement.
"We're looking to play the game tomorrow but we will have a briefing session at 10.30am and have another look at the pitch with the referee and take things from there.
"We're open to the elements here and I think if you look at the elements right now it probably doesn't look very positive.
"That being said, stranger things have happened.
"We're on Plan B and there could be a Plan C but at the moment we are focused on getting the game on tomorrow.
"There is a real willingness on both federations to play. But according to the weather forecast it is due to be bad today and for parts of tomorrow. At the end of the day it might change, but we have to do everything in our power to put this game on."
Wilson admitted there was a potential problem with the Israel match but confirmed no detailed planning has taken place on that front.
"With the weather as it is, even if the game goes ahead tomorrow that could cause issues with the pitch and the conditions for Israel but we have to take one game at a time," he added.
IFA staff - including chief executive Patrick Nelson - did their best to battle the weather this morning by shovelling snow from the pitch in grim conditions, but their efforts were in vain.
Windsor Park, home to Irish League outfit Linfield, is among the more basic on the international circuit and has little to no defence against the elements, such as under-soil heating.
Russia, meanwhile, are due to play Brazil in a friendly at Stamford Bridge on Monday but now face the prospect of a one-day break between games.
The inclement weather also forced the closure of the runway at George Best Belfast City Airport and the Association of Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs registered its concerns with the IFA over the safety of fans travelling to the match.