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Play-off delay leaves Irish FA fighting to keep hold of Michael O'Neill


Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

Michael O'Neill

The Irish Football Association haven't given up hope that Michael O'Neill will still be in charge for the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Bosnia and Herzegovina - even though it has been postponed until further notice.

Uefa's Executive Committee yesterday postponed all international matches in Europe scheduled for June, including the clash pencilled in for June 4 in Zenica.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, Northern Ireland's play-off semi-final battle against the Bosnians has now been postponed twice, with the original March 26 date not possible.

It could be played in September but this further delay has inevitably cast further doubt on whether O'Neill will remain in charge.

The former Shamrock Rovers boss has been continuing his Northern Ireland role alongside his Stoke City duties but now the IFA need fresh talks with O'Neill and the Championship side.

Depending on how the global pandemic develops, the play-offs could be rescheduled for as late as March next year with the Euro 2020 finals pushed back until the summer of 2021.

O'Neill was set to lead Northern Ireland through the play-offs, including a potential final at home to either the Republic of Ireland or Slovakia, but now his future is uncertain.

While there is normally an international window in September, no one knows how domestic football will look and whether the Uefa Nations League schedule will proceed. Northern Ireland are due to play Romania on September 4 and Norway on September 7.

O'Neill has acknowledged that combining his club and country commitments wouldn't work during the busier period of the campaign, leaving the Irish FA in a fight to retain his services.

Northern Ireland senior women's two Uefa Women's Euro 2021 qualifiers scheduled for June must also be rescheduled.

The senior women's team were due to play Euro qualifiers against Belarus away this month and then Belarus and Faroe Islands at home in June.

Irish FA chief executive Patrick Nelson said: “We are mindful that many European countries are struggling to deal with Covid-19, as are numerous countries around the world.

“This move is not surprising. It is a sensible decision by Uefa in the midst of a global health crisis which has already claimed many, many lives.”

The Uefa European Under-19 Championship final tournament scheduled for July has also been postponed until further notice.

Nelson added: “We were looking forward to staging the tournament in Northern Ireland at the end of July, but again it makes sense to postpone the U19 Euros given the virus outbreak and the predictions that it could last for several months.”

All Champions League and Europa League matches have been suspended “until further notice”.

But it’s understood that Uefa and the collective European leagues are committed to completing the 2019-20 domestic and continental seasons before 2020-21 begins, and are now actively planning for the major showpiece finals to be played behind closed doors, with voiding the campaign “off the table”.

There is now an acceptance that the finals of both the Champions League and Europa League will take place inside empty stadiums.

Uefa have set up two working groups to find solutions to the crisis — one on league logistics, the other on financial matters — and the reasons for the stance on completing 2019-20 are the exact same as in England: financial; sporting integrity; the mass complications that come with ending seasons prematurely; and also the knock-on effect on the many jobs connecting to the game.

Belfast Telegraph