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Slovak play-off plans in disarray after Covid-enforced withdrawals

Ireland's opponents reeling after the loss of two starters on eve of crunch Euro play-off

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Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal. Photo: Sportsfile

Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal. Photo: Sportsfile

Slovakia manager Pavel Hapal. Photo: Sportsfile

Slovakia's plans for tonight's crunch Euro 2020 play-off with Ireland have been thrown into chaos by the loss of two vital players on the eve of the game for Covid-19 reasons.

Inter Milan defender Milan Skriniar is out after it emerged he has tested positive for the virus.

That was a shock to the system for Slovakian boss Pavel Hapal who only hours earlier had confirmed Slovakia would not be able to call on star midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, who is in quarantine with his club Napoli, and has not been given clearance to leave Italy by local health officials despite undergoing three tests.

Hapal said he was "astonished" by that development seeing as it was inconsistent with other developments in Italy.

"It's astonishing. Juventus players could leave the city and the country to play for their national team. Lobotka has been tested for Covid multiple times and he has more negative tests and still couldn't come. We will miss him, we were counting on him," said Hapal, speaking before the news emerged about Skriniar.

Players from both sides had to undergo tests before the game as part of UEFA protocols and there have been a number of positive results around Europe ahead of various international games.

The implications of the Skriniar news were being digested by the Slovaks who will now likely have to involve Lazio defender Denis Vavro who has yet to see a minute of action in the new club season.

Lobotka had been flagged as a key creative threat by Stephen Kenny who had flagged his relationship with star man Marek Hamsik and Parma's Juraj Kucka as the strongest part of a Slovakian side that is already without goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

Kenny is confident his side will be in much better shape than they were for his opening UEFA Nations League double-header now that his likely starters have all been involved regularly for their clubs over the past month.

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His main absentee is skipper Seamus Coleman but he was a doubtful starter, with Matt Doherty favoured against Bulgaria and Finland.

The Ireland manager will have the opportunity to use five subs in normal time and a sixth if the game goes to extra-time.

It will also be the maiden use of VAR (video assistant referee) in an Irish senior international, with the manager admitting he had spoken to the players about its possible impact.

“Discipline is important,” he said.

Penalties have been practised just in case, with Kenny noting that Ireland have not been awarded a spot-kick in general play since Euro 2016.


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