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Windsor Park set for full capacity for Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier as new Kop rises

By Steven Beacom

Published 15/01/2016

High hopes: The foundations have been put in place to begin
work on the new Kop stand at Windsor Park
High hopes: The foundations have been put in place to begin work on the new Kop stand at Windsor Park

Windsor Park is on course to have its full capacity of 18,000 available in time for the September World Cup clash against San Marino in Belfast.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last July that the Irish FA had targeted the new Kop stand being ready for the opening home fixture in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and they remain confident that will be the case.

The foundations have been put in place for the new Kop stand, which was demolished last year when cracks were discovered in its structure after Northern Ireland defeated Finland 2-1 in a Euro 2016 qualifier last March, and an IFA spokesperson confirmed that it is all systems go for the San Marino encounter.

"Work on the steel structure will begin in February and we believe the Kop stand will be ready for Northern Ireland's first home game on October 10 this year against San Marino," he said.

Once the new Kop (officially known as the West Stand) is fit for purpose that will bring to a close a long running building programme to modernise the stadium.

It was back in May 2014 that work on the £25m Windsor redevelopment began with Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) funds being used to rebuild the South Stand and old Railway Stand as well as put new seating in the North and Kop Stands.

The completion date was originally set for November 2015 and all was going according to plan until the Kop had to come tumbling down.

One month after the San Marino match Northern Ireland will host Azerbaijan in their World Cup group on November 11 with home qualifiers against Norway (March 26, 2017) and the Czech Republic (September 4, 2017) before the biggest match of the campaign versus World Champions Germany on October 5 next year.

Michael O'Neill's men will of course face the Germans, as well as Poland and Ukraine, in the group stages of the Euro 2016 finals. The team are scheduled to leave Belfast for their Lyon base in France on June 5.

Prior to that, O'Neill hopes to have four friendlies. Already arranged is a trip to Wales on March 24 and a home game with Slovenia on March 28.

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