Northern Ireland braced for postponement as snow falls

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NORTHERN Ireland’s World Cup double-header was plunged into uncertainty after last night’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 today. But with more wintry weather expected overnight, a second cancellation seems 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 today 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 today, the effect on the pitch is likely to be such that a second match inside four days will be near impossible.

IFA head of communications Geoff Wilson said yesterday: “We’re open to the elements here and I think if you look at the elements right now it 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’re focused on getting the game on tomorrow.”

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 yesterday morning by shovelling snow from the pitch, but their efforts were in vain.

Windsor Park is among the more basic on the international circuit and has little to no defence against the elements, such as undersoil 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 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.