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Euro 2020 qualifier in doubt as Slovakia ask for delay

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Mick McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Mick McCarthy. Photo: Sportsfile

Mick McCarthy's ruse to have his Ireland team train at an empty Aviva Stadium, for players to get used to the experience of a game behind closed doors, is unlikely to be needed.

As Irish football goes into lockdown, with a ban on all "football activity" until March 29th, barely anyone expects the Slovakia v Republic of Ireland playoff for Euro 2020 to go ahead on the 26th.

McCarthy, who cancelled a squad announcement planned for today, is officially working on the basis that the Slovakia fixture goes ahead, which is why he thought that training at the Aviva, would get the players ready for the backdrop of a completely empty stadium in Bratislava.

But Slovakia have made it clear that conditions make it impossible for them to consider playing.

Domestically, incidents of Covid-19 are on the rise there, five more cases declared yesterday to take the national total to 21.

Slovakia is essentially a sealed country today, international air, train and bus travel banned.

Seven of their players are based in Italy, but with travel bans and quarantine rules in place, stars like Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan) and Stanislav Lobotka (Napoli) cannot even return to Slovakian soil, at least not legally.

Star man Marek Hamsik, who has been based in China for a year, is back in Slovakia and training with a junior club in a bid to keep fit, telling local media that he was "getting ready to face Ireland".

But few expect the game to go ahead. Even Ireland midfielder Jack Byrne was sceptical.

"It's difficult. I can't see that happening, to be honest. I can't see the game going ahead if you can't bring your best players to the game because of travel restrictions," the Shamrock Rovers man said yesterday.

Slovakia's FA yesterday appealed to UEFA to postpone the game as they did not " want to risk the health of all concerned".

And it's not certain that McCarthy's squad could even train in Dublin if they met up ahead of the game, as planned.

The FAI have ceased "all football under its jurisdiction" until March 29th. League of Ireland clubs are today debating whether that includes organised training sessions as this was not defined, and it's unclear if the senior squad could be allowed to train in Dublin if all other sports teams in the country were banned from training.

But the shockwaves from the Covid-19 crisis now mean that ithe entire Euro 2020 tournament is in danger of being put back for 12 months or abandoned.

This season's Champions League and Europa League tournaments may not be completed; Irish clubs banking on the 2020/21 versions of those competitions starting on schedule in June/July, and the cash injection that gives to the game here could be sorely disappointed.

Yet, UEFA showed an alarming lack of urgency with a statement yesterday that a conference call including representatives of the major clubs, the 55 national associations and reps from players' body FIFPRO would be held... next Tuesday.

Irish Independent