KFA keeps a low profile on World Cup qualifier

With FIFA making it clear that the match would be played only in a chairs-only stadium, the KFA has been forced to close two of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium’s three tiers for the India-Turkmenistan World Cup qualifier.

The Nehru Stadium had been packed for most of the Indian Super League (ISL) games in Kochi last season.   -  H. Vibhu

It’s a FIFA World Cup qualifier and it’s coming to Kochi after more than ten years but the Kerala Football Association (KFA) has decided to keep the volume low this time. The usual hullabaloo associated with a big game is missing here.

Well, there is a reason for this.

With FIFA making it clear that the match would be played only in a chairs-only stadium, the KFA has been forced to close two of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium’s three tiers for the India-Turkmenistan World Cup qualifier which will be played here on March 29.

That means nearly 38,000 gallery seats have been taken off from the 60,000-capacity stadium and with just about 15,000 tickets for sale, the KFA has decided to play it safe.

MALAPPURAM, KOZHIKODE KEPT AWAY

“We don’t want people from football-crazy Malappuram and Kozhikode rushing to the stadium for the match. That is why we decided to sell the tickets only in Kochi city and nearby Aluva for the match,” said P. Anilkumar, the KFA general secretary, on Wednesday evening.

POLICE WARNING

“The Police too have told us that if there is a big crowd outside the stadium and if there are any unruly scenes and if there is a big rush towards the stadium gates, it will not be able to do much.”

Massive crowds had been a problem in Kochi in the past. In 1997, during the India-Iraq semifinal of the Eider Nehru Cup, nearly 70,000 noisy fans thronged the Nehru Stadium and crowded near the sidelines too. The cops had a tough time managing them.

PLAYING IT SAFE

The Nehru Stadium had been packed for most of the Indian Super League (ISL) games in Kochi last season but with the national body AIFF virtually paying all the bills for the coming World Cup qualifier, the KFA is not looking at profits this time. In fact, it is taking a very cautious stand.

“If we go against the FIFA directive, we could face sanctions and the AIFF (national body and the host of the World Cup qualifier) could face a huge fine, something like Rs 50 lakh,” said Anilkumar.

“Whatever the crowd, if there are only around 22,000 seats available, we will have to make it clear that only that many people would be allowed in,” said K. M. I. Mather, the KFA president.

The Indian team, which plays Iran in the away World Cup qualifier in Tehran on Thursday, will arrive in Kochi on March 26 and the Turkmenistan team will land the next day.