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Rearrangement of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier with Russia could become thorny issue

Updated: Sunday, 24 Mar 2013 10:34 | Comments

The Windsor Park pitch was clearly unplayable, despite two attempts to stage the World Cup qualifier with Russia
The Windsor Park pitch was clearly unplayable, despite two attempts to stage the World Cup qualifier with Russia

The rearrangement of Northern Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Russia looks set to become a thorny issue, with none of the available dates likely to please both parties.

The Group F match, which was postponed on Friday night and again yesterday afternoon due to heavy snow and icy playing conditions at Windsor Park, will need to be played before the end of qualifying in October but discussions are set to be less than straightforward.

Russia face Portugal on 7 June and would be keen to fit in a trip to Belfast following that to make a double header.

But the Irish Football Association are against scheduling the game several weeks after the end of the British domestic seasons, when players will have been out of full-time training and may have holidays booked.

An international date also exists on 14 August, but Russia have already agreed to face Argentina in a friendly.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill has suggested slotting in a fixture at the end of May, but the most likely date in that window - 31 May - falls the day before key man Jonny Evans' wedding.

Negotiations between the Northern Irish and Russian associations will not take place until after the former's match against Israel on Tuesday, and if no agreement is reached FIFA will be called on to nominate the date.

Assessing the options available to his side, O'Neill said: "When we come to talk about the new date, I'll have to take into account that a game in June is well after the players' club season is over.

"If we play on one of the international dates in June that could be four to six weeks since the players were in regular football - well into their summer break. That would not be ideal especially as its also at the end of a long, hard season.

"August is also an option but it would mean Russia cancelling their planned friendly with Argentina and I'm not sure they'd be willing to do that.

"So I'll be looking at a May date. If possible, I'm going for a date in May as close to the end of the season as possible.

"I know it may not be an international date, but I'm hoping something can be arranged."

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