Finland’s decisive World Cup qualifier is suspected of having deteriorated in the Balkans

The qualifying match for the Finnish men’s national football team’s 2022 World Cup against Bosnia and Herzegovina – scheduled for Saturday 13 November in Zenica – is questionable as political tensions in the region escalate.

According to a report by the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the country is currently facing "the greatest existential threat" The end of the Bosnian war in 1995, when Serbian separatists demanded resignation.

"Continued and serious challenges to the foundations of the General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) by the authorities of the Republika Srpska (RS), led by a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Milorad Dodik, not only jeopardizes the peace and stability of the country and the region, but – if the international community does not respond – may lead to the termination of the agreement itself," The UN report states.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland Pekka Haavisto (Green) said in Yle’s breakfast program One morning on monday morning he is "concerned" a political crisis in the region could lead to military conflict.

"As for the situation in the Balkans, tensions are always so high that the possibility of a military conflict can often be considered. More attention should therefore be paid to this," Haavisto said and added that he hoped the game could continue.

Ari LahtiThe president of the Football Association told Yle Sport that UEFA, the governing body of European football, is closely monitoring the situation in the region and may decide to move the game to a neutral venue.

Supporters ordered to stay home because of Covid

The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina had already instructed Finnish fans not to travel to the game due to the deteriorating coronavirus situation in the country.

However, Yle knows that about 100 Finnish supporters are still planning a trip to the match – even though they may be denied access to the stadium.

"According to the information we received on Friday, no visiting fans will be admitted to Zenica Stadium due to the poor local vaccination situation and the clear increase in Covid cases than in Finland," Lahti said.

The story continues after the picture.

Zenica Stadium has a capacity of about 15,000.Getty Images for DFB

The national team supporters’ association SMJK has complained to UEFA about the decision to block fans from entering the field.

"It seems to me that this is a mere game skill designed to increase the interest of the home team. There are clearly fewer Covid infections in Finland than in Bosnia, so you can sense that this is just an excuse that also applies to the authorities," SMJK ticket sales manager Jussi Hartikainen told Yle Sport and further noted that away fans are allowed to participate in the country’s home league games.

Saturday’s game is crucial in Finland’s efforts to reach the World Cup final for the first time, with a win Owls, aka Eagle Owls, will move to second place in the group when there are only one round left.

Both teams played a 2-2 draw in the reverse match earlier this year in Helsinki.

Finland last traveled to Zenica during a successful campaign to reach the 2020 European Championship final, but then lost 4-1.

"At least last time, Zenica was a bad place for Finland, but there it didn’t feel as strange as in any other away match." Lahti recalled.

Source: The Nordic Page





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