The Under-17 World Cup semifinal between Brazil and England has been shifted from Guwahati to Kolkata because of poor pitch conditions at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium. The match will be held as per schedule at 5 pm on Wednesday, but at the Salt Lake Stadium. The two teams agreed to the switch, while the West Bengal government has said it will pull out all stops and will ensure a successful organisation of the fixture. Kolkata will also host the final on Saturday.
By the time FIFA officially confirmed the switch, both Brazil and England had already landed in Guwahati. It is learnt that England were initially OK with playing at the Guwahati stadium — they are used to such conditions in lower leagues and non-league football — but after an inspection in the afternoon, the pitch conditions were found to be a little too dangerous. Guwahati had been witnessing heavy rainfall over the past few days.
Those who purchased tickets for the Guwahati game can ask for a refund, or else the same tickets will be valid in Kolkata should some fans from there decide to drop in. Additional tickets will be sold online and will be priced at Rs 100 each. Tickets through counters, if any, will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis. The Salt Lake Stadium’s capacity for this tournament is a little over 66,600 compared to the Guwahati stadium’s 30,000. It’s learnt that about 18000 tickets had been sold in Guwahati for the semifinal.
The Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the FIFA U-17 World Cup gave the West Bengal government an hour to decide if the administration was game for relocation. “We decided in 45 minutes. It’s a challenge. Ticket distribution is a factor but our six departments will work day and night and we will organise the match successfully,” state sports minister Aroop Biswas told reporters on Monday.
A FIFA release said: “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 Stadium (Salt Lake Stadium), where the match will kick off at 17:00 local time.
“Despite the great efforts by all involved parties, including the authorities of State Government of Assam, 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.”
Two days ago, Ghana coach Samuel Fabin had slammed Guwahati’s IG Athletic Stadium pitch after his team’s 2-1 loss to Mali in the quarterfinal.
“I thought the game should have been abandoned and played at another time. But those organising the game said it should be played, so we played. We haven’t encountered anything like this before,” Fabin had said.
Maybe, it’s a coincidence that Kolkata gets marquee fixtures out of turn, be it the World T20 blockbuster between India and Pakistan or an U17 World Cup semifinal. Last year, at the ICC World T20, the India-Pakistan game had been moved out of Dharamsala because of political protests. The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) then hosted the match at two weeks’ notice, with the state government extending all help. This time, Guwahati’s pain is Kolkata’s gain for a high-profile clash. Both Brazil and England have been in excellent form in this World Cup.
“FIFA and the LOC regret that unforeseen circumstances have led to this decision, which will deprive football fans in Guwahati of this semi-final encounter. Both FIFA and the LOC would like to sincerely thank the city of Guwahati and the state government of Assam for their excellent cooperation throughout the competition,” the FIFA release said.
Huge demand for tickets
Demand for tickets for the shifted Brazil-England U17 World Cup semifinal in Kolkata skyrocketed with an online queue of more than a lakh registered within an hour after it was thrown open on the official FIFA site. “You are in an online queue for the FIFA U17 World Cup India 2017 tickets. Once it is your turn, you will have 10 minutes to enter the website,” the message on the website read quoting serial number 121911 with 84735 users still ahead within an hour after it went live.