FIFA directive sees bad turnout for final WC qualifier

A FIFA directive that the WC qualifier should be played in a chairs-only stadium had forced the Kerala Football Association to close the galleries. That meant nearly two thirds of the stadium with a capacity of 60,000 was closed to the public.

Only about 200 people were seen at the FIFA World Cup qualifier between India and Turkmenistan.   -  H. Vibhu

This was a city that brought in some of the biggest crowds for the Indian Super League but surprisingly, there was an empty Nehru Stadium for the World Cup qualifier between India and Turkmenistan here on Tuesday evening.

A FIFA directive that the WC qualifier should be played in a chairs-only stadium had forced the Kerala Football Association to close the galleries. That meant nearly two thirds of the stadium with a capacity of 60,000 was closed to the public and only some 22,000 seats were available for a WC qualifier that was coming to Kochi after 12 years.

Initially the KFA, which had seen the stadium filled to its capacity on many ISL days the last couple of years, was worried. It felt that a big turnout would turn out to be a problem and if the crowds were uncontrollable, it would pose a security risk too.

That forced the KFA to limit the sale of tickets to just Ernakulam District leaving out the football-crazy northern districts of the State like Kozhikode and Malappuram. But none expected an empty stadium for one of the State’s biggest games. Just about 200 fans turned up to see the match.

In fact, there were more cops outside the ground than fans on chairs inside the stadium.

“With India at the bottom of the table in the qualifiers, there were a lot of negative stories in the media before this match. That is probably the reason for the poor ticket sales,” said P. Anilkumar, the KFA General Secretary.