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Save the date: UEFA hope Northern Ireland can tackle Bosnia in Zenica on June 4


Bosnia & Herzegovina's Eldar Civic with Northern Ireland's Steven Davis

Bosnia & Herzegovina's Eldar Civic with Northern Ireland's Steven Davis

@INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

Bosnia & Herzegovina's Eldar Civic with Northern Ireland's Steven Davis

UEFA have provisionally rescheduled Northern Ireland's Euro 2021 play-off semi-final with Bosnia and Herzegovina for Thursday, June 4 in Zenica.

Michael O'Neill's men and just over 900 Northern Ireland fans should have been preparing to fly this week to south-east Europe for Thursday night's tie.

But with the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, countries on lockdown, travel severely restricted and Bosnia's Serie A players in quarantine, UEFA, following a video conference with all 55 associations last Tuesday, agreed to postpone all play-off games, including Slovakia against the Republic of Ireland and Scotland hosting Israel, until June.

Now Irish FA President David Martin has confirmed to Sunday Life Sport, following written correspondence from UEFA, that football's governing body in Europe, provided the coronavirus has dissipated, hope to play the play-off semi-finals during the international window on June 4, with the respective finals five days later on Tuesday, June 9.

Should Northern Ireland defeat Bosnia, they would then entertain either Slovakia or neighbours the Republic of Ireland at Windsor Park for the right to compete at the Euro finals, which have been moved back one year due to the COVID-19 crisis.

UEFA will be guided by their medical experts and the World Health Organisation, along with the respective governments of the countries where the matches are being played in.

If the matches have to be postponed for a second time, then options include playing the play-offs during the international window in September, but then this would eat into the Nations League fixtures.

Priority is also likely to be given to domestic leagues which, if football is back in June, could result in the international window being closed and club games being played during that period.

The Premier League have stated they would like to see their games commence again on April 30, but at this stage, with experts warning the peak of the virus could hit the UK around that time, just over four weeks from now seems optimistic.

A viable alternative, considering the finals do not take place until June 2021, is for the play-offs to take place during next March's international window.

President Martin says: "We have received written confirmation from UEFA of June 4, which is during the proposed international window. That's the date they have chosen and we will begin to work towards that. We would put plans in place. Obviously we are aware that date could be pushed back again, the virus will dictate that, but we will be fully informed by UEFA."

Around 850 members of the Green and White Army hold tickets for Thursday night's now postponed game in Zenica, while another 100 supporters were expected to watch the game on television in Sarajevo.

It's still undecided at this stage whether the proposed game on June 4 will be played behind closed doors, but President Martin insists his preference, provided it is safe to do so, would be to have the fans in attendance.

"I believe there are three vital ingredients in professional football - players, fans and stadium. Without the fans, it dilutes the game. The fans should be there to add to the overall occasion.

"We will work with any Northern Ireland supporter who had secured a ticket for the postponed match. But we will not decide if the games go ahead, the virus will dictate and we will be guided by the relevant authorities."

As revealed in Sunday Life Sport last week, the Irish FA would need to agree a new deal with Stoke City for O'Neill to manage Northern Ireland during the rescheduled play-offs. His agreement with Stoke only covered the play-offs this month and the Championship club, who will still be battling relegation when the season resumes, informed Sunday Life Sport they would not be commenting on O'Neill's future with Northern Ireland.

President Martin would also not be drawn on the subject.

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Belfast Telegraph