CHENNAI: With both the Indian and Lebanese teams having left the city for Goa, it is now official that the first round World Cup football qualifier will be held in Margao on Tuesday.
It is a different matter that the rains which had brought about this happening have since ceased, even if overcast conditions continue. This made a member of the Lebanese delegation wonder, “why did we have to change the venue? Can we not still play here?”
Match Commissioner Rendeni Gamini of Sri Lanka claimed that the “official” announcement was made late on Sunday itself after ascertaining the conditions of the pitch by the referee and in consultation with FIFA. Asked why then he had made the earlier statement that “the match had been postponed to Monday for a kick off at 4 p.m.”, when a decision to shift had come about not long after, he said, “he had only followed the FIFA regulation, which required that the match should be first postponed and thereafter review the situation if need be.”
He said, “We had a discussion with FIFA officials soon after when the Referee felt that the ground was so soggy and with the rain continuing play would be impossible even if they had waited for three days and that is when the topic of change of venue came up. Besides, FIFA was insistent that the match should be completed before October 31, well ahead of the next round starting on November 8.”
Mr. Gamini said AIFF had wanted shifting the match to Delhi, looking into logistics — the journey would involve just about two hours. Also the city had hosted the Nehru Cup international tournament recently. But FIFA did not agree because the stadium there had not been inspected by its officials where as the Fatorda stadium in Margao had gone through an approved inspection.
For the Lebanese players and officials however, this would be a trip they will not easily forget. For, soon after the match in Goa on Tuesday they need to rush to Chennai the same night to catch the homebound flight early morning on October 31, as per the bookings done based on the earlier plan.