Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

June date for return of the Russians

Aubry Ralph (Glentoran), Andrew Dixon (Rangers), Jim Kerr (Linfield) and Gerard Lawlor (Cliftonville) at Windsor Park
Aubry Ralph (Glentoran), Andrew Dixon (Rangers), Jim Kerr (Linfield) and Gerard Lawlor (Cliftonville) at Windsor Park

Fifa are set to force Northern Ireland into playing their postponed World Cup qualifier against Russia at Windsor Park on June 11.

FIFA are set to force Northern Ireland into playing their postponed World Cup qualifier against Russia at Windsor Park on June 11.Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill is strongly against that date and the IFA were last night insisting that negotiations were ongoing, but try telling that to the Russians who are extremely confident that they will be back in Belfast when they wish.

It means Northern Ireland will face their first competitive fixture in June for the first time in a decade.

After the original match was postponed last month due to the snowstorms, both the IFA and Russian football authorities put forward their preferred dates to Fifa for the rescheduled fixture.

The home side wanted late May, the visitors June 11, six weeks after the Football League season in England ends when most of the Northern Ireland squad are normally on holiday.

Group F leaders Russia face Portugal on June 7 and will be more than happy to play at Windsor a few days later.

Northern Ireland's last June qualifier was in 2003 — a creditable 0-0 draw at home to Spain. A number of friendly fixtures have been staged since, but every match has been hit by the absence of senior players.

At Windsor Park yesterday, leading officials from top clubs in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland met with officials from local clubs under the umbrella of the European Club association.

The regional meeting will be followed up by a further gathering in Iceland next week, with Irish FA Premiership clubs keen for Uefa to move the dates of the Champions League and Europa League draws, which take place just over a week before the games are due to be played.

“We discussed a number of issues that we want to take to Uefa, including the European draws,” said Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor.

“Uefa have given us reasons why they have to be made when they are, but we have made counter-proposals.”

nTHE Northern Ireland women’s under-19 team completed their European Championship elite qualifying round yesterday with a 5-0 defeat to Finland.

nANDY Coleman has handed Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton a timely boost on two fronts.

Coleman will make a comeback against Lisburn Distillery on Saturday after an eight-week injury lay-off and he has also agreed a new contract which keeps him at the club for another two years.

His return couldn’t be better timed because Davy O’Hare is suspended.

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