By Samindra Kunti in Kolkata
October 24 – FIFA shifted the U-17 World Cup semi-final between England and Brazil from Guwahati to Kolkata on Monday. Torrential rainfall had reduced the quarter-final between Mali and Ghana to a mud fight at the weekend.
Last Saturday the African teams has been battling it out for a coveted spot among the last four of the tournament, but the game conditions in Assam had hardly been conducive to high quality football. For two days severe rain had been lashing down on Guwahati and the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, on the outskirts of the city.
Yet match officials green-lighted the game to go ahead following a pitch inspection 90 minutes before kick-off. The rainfall intensified after the break with pitch conditions scarcely acceptable for any game of football. The ball stopped rolling and players slipped everywhere. Ghana and Mali got stuck in the mud with the Malians adapting better to the weather and taking advantage of a blunder from Ghana’s 14-year old goalkeeper Danlan Ibrahim to clinch a 2-1 victory.
Ghana coach Paa Kwesi Fabin was furious with the questionable decision to play the game at all. “We’ve not encountered anything like this before,” said Kwesi Fabin. “I thought the game should have been abandoned and played in some another time but those who are organizing they said we have to play so we played.”
With the pitch torn up, organisers, officials and volunteers laboured hard to get it back into shape in time for England’s semi-final with Brazil on Wednesday, but FIFA, belatedly, decided to do the right thing and move the game away from Guwahati.
“Following a thorough assessment of the pitch conditions at Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, which has been affected by severe rainfall over the past few days, FIFA has decided to move the venue of the semi-final between Brazil and England, due to be played on 25 October 2017, to Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, where the match will kick off at 17:00,” read a statement from the governing body.
“Despite the great efforts by all involved parties, including the authorities of Guwahati, to preserve the pitch, FIFA has taken this decision following consultations with both teams in order to safeguard the players’ health and to ensure the best playing conditions.”
Brazilian officials had expressed their happiness with the tournament’s organisation to Insideworldfootball en route to Guwahati, but their plans were thrown in disarray by FIFA’s last minute decision. They can however count on ‘home’ support in Kolkata. The boys from Brazil received massive Bengali support in their quarter-final against Germany, with Kolkata a notorious Brazil bastion. Local fans expressed huge demand in the semi-final as tickets went on sale at 8.30pm on Monday. The match was sold out within a matter of hours.
England also arrived in Guwahati to be told by officials that the game would be moved. The winner of the blockbuster semi-final in Kolkata will face Spain or either Iran in the final on October 28.
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