| 6.9°C Belfast

Coronavirus: Supporter access to Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off in increasing doubt as Bosnian club games to take place behind closed doors

But NI boss Michael O'Neill is looking on bright side of potential fan ban

Close

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Getty Images

Bosnia and Herzegovina are set to host Northern Ireland on March 26 in the Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are set to host Northern Ireland on March 26 in the Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica.

PA Archive/PA Images

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill

Ever-increasing doubt is being cast on Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bosnia after clubs in the nation's Premier League were ordered to play games behind closed doors..

The next two rounds of domestic fixtures, on Saturday 14 March and Tuesday 17 March, will take place without supporters, although the Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina has stopped short of banning fans from the last day of action before the international window.

Northern Ireland are due to take on Bosnia and Herzegovinia in Zenica on Thursday 26 March, with ticket sales postponed early on Tuesday.

The BIH FA had said that a new date for sales to begin would be announced in due course and has stressed in recent days that there is no immediate threat of the game having to be played behind closed doors.

However, supporters actually being permitted into the Bilino Polje Stadium is looking increasingly unlikely given the progression of the coronavirus outbreak.

Bosnia's fifth case of Covid-19 was detected on Monday in Zenica, the city in which the game is due to take place. The patient is a woman who recently stayed in Italy and was placed in self-isolation on her return to the city.

The nation's first ban on mass gatherings was then issued in Sarajevo, 70km south-east of Zenica. While the announcement from the Sarajevo Canton Government banning all public meetings of more than 250 people does not directly impact the match, it sets a precedent in the state.

The Irish FA are understood to be awaiting official communication from Bosnia. The body had taken expressions of interest in tickets from Northern Ireland supporters last year and have confirmed ticket allocations to successful applicants, who have yet to receive tickets.

Sales had originally been scheduled to begin on Wednesday at 9am.

While the Northern Ireland fans who are due to travel to Zenica might not agree, manager Michael O'Neill reckons any supporter ban might work to his side's benefit.

“We played Bosnia in the Nations League and while it was a small stadium the atmosphere was very intimidating, very patriotic,” he said on Tuesday. “From that point of view, for our sake, it is something slightly to our advantage.”

The Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina in a statement said: "Ticket sale for the Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Northern Ireland play-offs match was scheduled to begin tomorrow at the same time at the partner agency “Centrotrans” and the premises of the FF BH.

"However, in order to prevent the spread of the virus corona, and in accordance with the recommendations of the relevant institutions, the ticket sale is postponed for several days.

"A new ticket sale date will be announced later."

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia in Bratislava will be played behind closed doors.

The winners of Northern Ireland's tie in Bosnia are set to host the victors of the Republic's game in Slovakia on March 31 for a place at the Euro 2020 finals.

Belfast Telegraph