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Fate of Northern Ireland fans travelling to crunch Euro tie in hands of Bosnian government


Northern Ireland fan Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland fan Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland fan Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

The fate of Northern Ireland's crunch Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Zenica later this month will rest on the local government in Bosnia.

Michael O'Neill's men are due to tackle Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 26 and with coronavirus sweeping across Europe, there are major concerns about the match being staged in a normal capacity.

Three cases of the Covid-19 virus have been confirmed in Bosnia and the country's Health Minister Alen Seranic anticipates that number rising considerably in the coming weeks.

Around 900 Northern Ireland fans are expected to descend on the Bosnian city of Zenica for the crucial play-off encounter

With no direct flights from either Belfast, Dublin or London, supporters will need to make at least two stops in European countries before arriving in the capital Sarajevo.

The Bosnian Football Association executive board met on Friday to discuss the upcoming match with Northern Ireland and it was decided to proceed as if the game was going ahead with fans from both countries in attendance.

However, the Bosnian government will have the final say as the fixture draws closer and there is still the possibility the match will be 'played behind closed doors'. Bosnia is just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, where 3,000 cases have been confirmed.

Italian and French governments, in recent days, have applied restrictions on sporting events, with no fans in attendance at Serie A matches until at least April 3.

UEFA have told Sunday Life Sport they will take their lead from the relevant authorities in Bosnia.

"UEFA takes the situation linked to the coronavirus very seriously," said a UEFA spokesperson. "We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with the World Health Organisation and national authorities regarding Covid-19 and its development.

"UEFA is also monitoring decisions by local authorities that may have an impact on matches in its competitions and we are in contact with all clubs and national associations"

IFA chief executive, Patrick Nelson, said: "We have been in close contact with UEFA, who are being guided by the World Health Organisation. We will take our lead from the advice of those sources."

Gary McAllister, spokesperson for the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs, has plans in place to travel out to Bosnia for the game but says he and his members will be guided by the Irish FA.

"At this stage, we're adopting a 'wait and see' attitude and we'll be guided by anything which comes from the footballing authorities. I think most fans are doing the same," said McAllister. "The IFA have told us that they'll follow any guidance provided by the World Health Organisation and UEFA.

"Hopefully the ongoing health crisis won't impact on the play-off games. It's a situation which realistically we can do little about as fans."

Northern Ireland, with Michael O'Neill in charge, are due to spend just under 48 hours in Bosnia for the match. They are due to meet up at St George's Park in England on Sunday March 22 and train at the FA's state of the art complex until Wednesday when they will fly, via charter, to Sarajevo.

They will train at the Bilino Polje stadium on the Wednesday evening, play the game on Thursday night and then return home to Belfast, via charter on Friday morning.

If Northern Ireland are successful in Zenica, they will host the play-off final at Windsor Park against either Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland on March 31.

Once again, the IFA will be advised by UEFA and government on the staging of the deciding match for Euro 2020.

Meanwhile in London, sports governing bodies and broadcasters have been called to a government meeting tomorrow to discuss the impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on the sporting calendar.

As revealed in Sunday Life Sport today, UEFA would seriously consider playing the Euro 2020 finals without fans in stadiums due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Dublin, Glasgow and London are all set to host group games, with Wembley scheduled to stage a semi-final and the final.

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Belfast Telegraph