FIFA U-17 World Cup: Nature denies Guwahati Brazil-England semifinal clash
The woeful conditions of the pitch in Guwahati was the main reason why the Brazil-England FIFA U-17 World Cup semifinal match was moved to Kolkata.fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 23, 2017 23:50 IST
In soccer-crazy Northeast, tournaments involving local teams attract a sizable crowd. Tickets to Wednesday’s semi-final match were thus almost sold out before the first match of the FIFA U-17 World Cup was played in Guwahati on October 8.
That Brazil would be playing the semi-final against England was more than anyone in region could have asked for. But nature had other ideas.
Four days of incessant rainfall in Guwahati – 115.9mm in October, 49.2 mm more than normal – made the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium unplayable, forcing FIFA to shift Wednesday’s semi-final to Kolkata.
“It is a sad day for football in these parts. We were perhaps not destined to hold the match,” Ankur Dutta, secretary of Assam Football Association, told Hindustan Times.
Assam government officials said they had prepared the pitch according to FIFA specifications. But they admitted to not having factored in the possibility of abnormal rainfall.
“Clogging of the drainage system under the field complicated matters. Getting to the bottom of the problem would have meant digging up the turf,” said an official, seeking anonymity.
FIFA officials said the pitch was satisfactory until the eighth match of the tournament between Mali and Ghana on October 21. Mali won the rain-drenched match 2-1, but Ghana found the going tough on the soggy ground.
The trigger for FIFA’s concern was Ghana coach Samuel Kwasi Fabin’s observation after the loss to Mali. “The match should have ideally been abandoned,” he said.
It continued to rain after the quarterfinal. Some 200 volunteers including tournament director Javier Ceppi worked non-stop for 48 hours to try and get the pitch match-ready. The tournament’s pitch consultants were flown from Kolkata while the state government requisitioned a Pawan Hans helicopter to dry the field with its rotor for 45 minutes.
But these did not help. FIFA let Brazil and England, who arrived during the day, to take a call. Brazil declined to play and England followed suit.
FIFA later issued a statement saying the semi-final has been moved to Kolkata to “safeguard the players’ health and ensure the best playing conditions” despite efforts “to preserve the (Guwahati) pitch”.
Former footballer Gilbertson Sangma felt for hundreds of fans who were waiting for the “biggest match” in these parts. “The shifting of the match is a letdown for us, but it should be a lesson in hosting international tournaments, where everything has to be factored in,” he said.