Fan-tastic: Green light for NI supporters' Romania trip
Northern Ireland fans and the Irish Football Association are today breathing a huge sigh of relief after confirmation the Green and White Army will be allowed into the Euro 2016 qualifier in Romania.
Supporters feared a long awaited Uefa disciplinary ruling would see the game in Bucharest on Friday, November 14 played behind closed doors.
Uefa were forced to act after crowd trouble during Romania's match against Hungary last month but a decision, expected on Thursday last week, was finally announced yesterday.
Partial stadium closures and fines were dished out to Romania and Hungary, meaning Northern Ireland fans can attend the fixture at the Arena Nationala.
The Irish FA will sell tickets for the game via their website from 9am on Monday morning.
Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: "We are very pleased that Uefa has taken the decision not to punish the innocent. It is important that the tickets are distributed efficiently and we will set up collection points in Bucharest. We are entitled to around 2,750 tickets but around 1,000 might be able to travel. It has been a frustrating wait but we cannot get involved in other people's disputes. Uefa have their way of dealing with these matters and we must abide by them."
The Group F clash in Bucharest — which took place on October 11 and finished 1-1 — featured 11 yellow cards, while off the pitch police used tear gas as fireworks and flares were let off by both sets of supporters.
Hungary fans set light to several seats after Adam Szalai’s first-half goal was disallowed.
The travelling Hungarian fans have also been punished for “racist behaviour.”
Uefa’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary body has decided that both countries should play their next home matches in partially closed grounds, while also fining the Romanian Football Federation €32,000 and its Hungarian counterpart €30,000.
A statement from European football’s governing body revealed that Romania had been penalised for the “setting off/throwing of fireworks and missiles, use of a laser pointer [and] crowd disturbance”.
One sector of the National Stadium will be closed for their home qualifier against Northern Ireland but travelling fans are not affected. Hungary have been sanctioned for “racist behaviour, setting off/throwing fireworks and missiles [and] crowd disturbances”.
A minimum of 2,500 seats at the Florian Albert Stadion will be closed off for their qualifier against Finland on November 14.
Hungary have also been ordered to pay for the damage to Bucharest’s National Stadium caused by their fans within 30 days.
Both sets of sanctions are open to appeal.
Irish FA president Jim Shaw also welcomed the news, saying: “I’m relieved and I suspected this would happen. It would have been extremely unfair and a terrible injustice to Northern Ireland fans had they stopped our supporters attending the game.
“Our fans have been voted the best in Europe and they have lived up to that title.”
Shaw added: “I’m on the Uefa disciplinary committee and I think we need to recognise that we cannot take this long to make a decision when there is the concept of a week of football and the games come along in a short period. It’s just not realistic to impose short-term stadium closures in this manner. The very real danger as well is that the innocent are penalised.
Northern Ireland fans can now expect a significant security presence at the game in Bucharest.
Michael O’Neill’s side, who have won their three opening fixtures, are top of Pool F with Romania just two points behind in second place.
An Irish FA statement read: “Tickets for the game will go on sale online at 9am on Monday 3 November. Tickets will be distributed by the Irish FA in Bucharest. Information on the collection point and times will be issued in due course.”