WORLD CUP QUALIFIER: NORTHERN IRELAND V ISRAEL (7.45PM KICK OFF, LIVE ON SKY SPORTS)

The green, green grass returns to Windsor Park

The green, green grass returns to Windsor Park

WHAT a difference a few days make.

This is the scene at Windsor Park on Tuesday morning ahead of Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Israel.

The pitch looks in great condition, say the IFA and manager Michael O’Neill.

But just a few days ago the south Belfast ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow.

Ground staff woke up on Friday morning to blizzard like conditions.

But despite their valiant efforts and those of volunteers, the referee postponed the game until Saturday to give it a chance to thaw out.

However, by Saturday morning, the pitch was deemed un-playable and the game was cancelled.

The match will now be replayed in May at the end of the league season.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill says he is confident that the Israel at Windsor Park will go ahead.

The condition of the pitch at the international stadium in Belfast has improved after the game with Russia was postponed following heavy snowfall.

“The pitch is in great condition and should be in fine shape for Tuesday night,” said O’Neill.

“I have no concerns about it at all – the groundsman has done a great job.

Ground staff clearing the snow at Windsor Park in south Belfast on Friday

Ground staff clearing the snow at Windsor Park in south Belfast on Friday

“It is nice and firm, a little bit softer than it was when we trained on it last Thursday, but it’s not wet and it’s not sticky, the wind has helped and the snow has been cleared.”

A statement from the Irish Football Association said their staff had been “working tirelessly to prepare the pitch”.

“The thaw has greatly helped the pitch and it is firm underfoot – covers will be in place on Monday night with the aim of protecting the pitch from frost,” continued the statement.

An initial pitch inspection by a Fifa delegate took place at 14:00 GMT on Monday to give Israel the green light to train on the Windsor Park surface at 17:00.

The referee will inspect the pitch further on Tuesday morning as part of his normal duties but Irish FA officials are confident that the game will go ahead.

O’Neill said his players had adapted to the postponement well and are now focused on taking on the Israelis.

“The players have been excellent and have applied themselves very well in frustrating circumstances. It has been a long week for them,” he said.

“The challenge for us has been to organise training facilities on artificial pitches of a suitable standard but we managed to do that on Saturday and Sunday and we are training on grass again on Monday.

“We have been careful not to overload the players with training and we have been taking advice from the sports scientists in that regard.”

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