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FIFA calls off World Cup matches at last minute

19 September 2007 11:50

TIANJIN, China (AFP) - Matches at the women's World Cup on Wednesday were called off at the last minute and rescheduled after protests from the teams involved, leaving many fans in the lurch.

It means China's crunch Group D game against New Zealand here and Australia's equally important showdown with Canada in Chengdu will now take place on Thursday.

The move followed a decision by FIFA on Tuesday to push back the Group D clash between Brazil and Denmark and the Group C meeting between Norway and Ghana to Thursday as Typhoon Wipha barrelled towards China.

But the fixture change was contradictory to the practice of playing the group finales together on the same day, and sparked complaints to FIFA and the local organising committee.

Teams said having the final group games on different days would give those sides playing on Thursday an unfair advantage as they would know the score of the Wednesday game and thus what result was needed to make the quarter-finals.

"All of the teams (in Group C) protested that none of the games were being played at the same time," said an official with the Australian team.

FIFA spokesman Nicolas Maingot told AFP the decision to postpone the games was made "in the early afternoon" and that the teams were informed soon after.

The Australian team said it was only told that the match had been postponed as they prepared to board the bus to the stadium in Chengdu, although Canadian spokesman Richard Scott said his team had yet to leave the hotel.

"We knew that there was a possibility that there would be a change," he said. "That's football."

FIFA's official statement was issued 10 minutes after the Australia-Canada match was supposed to have started.

"Obviously, as a responsible organisation we listen to our members," said Maingot.

"Most of the teams were not happy by our original decision. But it was because of a special circumstance. The evolution of the typhoon tells us that it is now possible to play all the matches on the same day."

The typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm Wednesday as it lost much of its punch after roaring ashore in Zhejiang province south of the financial hub Shanghai.

Billed by Chinese state media as potentially the worst to strike in a decade, it sparked the evacuation of around two million people.

Asked about fans, some of whom had travelled from overseas, being left in the lurch, Maingot said they were taken into consideration, without elaborating.

"It is an important point and one we definitely took into consideration," he said," adding that the local organising committee was responsible for refunds or the reissue of tickets.

The China match was expected to attract 60,000 fans.

New Zealander Carolyn Thompson said the postponement had caused all sorts of problems.

"Now we have to decide whether we are going to stay for the game, or miss our planes (back to New Zealand)," she said.

"We have paid thousands of dollars to come here to watch the matches, so we must decide to either leave now, or pay thousands of dollars by missing our flight and paying for more hotels."

Another New Zealander at the stadium here, Terry McCahill, added: "We heard that there are a lot of Chinese fans coming in from Beijing, so they will also have to turn around.

"It's not only us foreign fans that are inconvenienced, the Chinese fans will have to change their plans."

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