Northern Ireland meeting with Israel under threat

Match with Russia was suspended

The prospects of Northern Ireland losing a second World Cup qualifier to the weather receded this afternoon, with Israel given the green light to train at Windsor Park.

Russia left Belfast without fulfilling their Group F clash after the original Friday night kick-off and a revised start time of 3pm on Saturday were called off due to heavy snow and pitch ice.

There had been some concerns tomorrow's visit of Israel would also be under threat, but a clear-up operation took place at the ground today and a FIFA delegation were dispatched to check the playing surface was safe for the visitors to practise at 5pm.

They confirmed they were happy for the session to go ahead, meaning the only threat to tomorrow's 7.45pm start would be another bout of extreme weather in the next 24 hours.

The match referee, alongside FIFA officials, will make a planned inspection at 10.30am in the morning - during which time the pitch will be assessed again in line with standard regulations.

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill made his own visit to the stadium earlier today and is certain there will be no problems with the pitch.

"I was at the pitch this morning, it's not wet and it's not sticky," he said.

"In fact it's nice and dry and it's as good as it was before the snow was on it.

"The pitch is nice and firm, albeit slightly softer than it was when we trained on it on Thursday, but we have no concerns about the pitch at all.

"The groundsman has done a fantastic job."

A statement released by the IFA added: "The Irish FA is working tirelessly to prepare the pitch at Windsor Park for Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier against Israel.

"A pitch inspection will be carried out by the referee on Tuesday morning as part of his normal duties.

"The thaw has greatly helped the pitch and it is firm underfoot.

"Covers will be in place tonight. The aim of covers are to protect the pitch from the frost."

PA

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