Coronavirus Confirmed In Algeria, Zimbabwe Wants CAF To Have AFCON Match Played Outside Algeria.
28 February 2020
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Xolisani Gwesela

State Media|THE confirmation of two coronavirus cases in Algeria has cast a shadow over the 2021 AFCON qualifier between the Desert Foxes and the Warriors set to be held in that North African country next month.

Zimbabwe face the African champions in a back-to-back 2021 Nations Cup qualifiers next month.

The Warriors are scheduled to travel to Algeria for the first match on March 23 before hosting the same opponents six days later.

But the return fixture has been marred by a decision by CAF to ban all stadiums in the country from hosting international matches.

However, before the Warriors can even think of hosting Algeria on a neutral venue, they should also brace for possible a battle against the Desert Foxes either outside the North African country or behind closed doors due to coronavirus.

Two Italian adults, aged 55 and 61, have tested positive of the COVID-19 infection in Algeria. The epidemic has claimed over 2768 people across the world with over 76 700 infected.

The outbreak started in China and has spread to over 11 other countries with Algeria becoming the second African country, after Egypt, to have a confirmed case.

The virus spreads quickly in crowded places and several businesses, including sports shops in China, have been closed in a bid to contain the spread of the virus which the World Health Organisation has hinted could become a global epidemic.

All sporting activities have been halted in China, where Zimbabwe international football forward Nyasha Mushekwi plies his trade, with Iran also considering to do the same.

Italy, the most affected European country, has already seen four top-flight games suspended last Sunday, including the one involving championship-chasing Inter Milan and Sampdoria.

The matches between Torino and Parma, Atalanta versus Sassuolo as well as the tie pitting Hellas Verona and Cagliari were also shelved.

A Europa last-32 second-leg match between Inter Milan and Bulgaria’s Ludogorets last night was expected to be played behind closed doors at San Siro although over 600 Bulgarians had initially been scheduled to travel to Milan for the encounter.

The Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and Italy in Dublin was this week postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Philip Browne, the head of the Irish Rugby Football Union, said in a statement that they had no option but to put the match on hold.

“Ireland vs Italy international matches should not proceed in the interests of public health,’’ read the statement.

“The IRFU is perfectly happy to comply with this instruction. We will work with Six Nations partners to look at the possibility of rescheduling those three matches and we hope to have an update on that in the coming days.

“At the outset we made it clear that the IRFU was supportive of the governments’ need to protect public health in relation to the coronavirus.’’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also called for all sports in the country to be scrapped for two weeks in a bid to contain the spread of the virus ahead of this year’s summer Olympics.

‘’Taking into account that the next one to two weeks are extremely important in stopping the spread of infection, the government considers there to be a large risk of transmission at sports, cultural events and large gatherings of people,’’ PM Abe said.

And, in response, the Japanese sports fraternity have introduced a drastic range of self-imposed restraints to combat the spread of the virus. Sports organisations in that country have been heeding a call to postpone or cancel big events over coming weeks after 900 cases of infection were confirmed in Japan, many of which were linked to a quarantined cruise ship docked in Yokohama.

The J-League, Japan’s top soccer competition on Tuesday suspended official matches in the country.

And, it will be interesting to see what happens with the match between the Warriors and Algeria on March 23 given the confirmed cases in Algeria.

ZIFA spokesperson, Xolisani Gwesela, last night said they will be guided by CAF on the way forward.

“We will stand guided by CAF on the way forwarded and, as of now, CAF have not raised any red flag,’’ said Gwesela.

‘‘We have an embassy in Algeria and they are fully aware of our match against that country.

‘‘We will see as the match draws closer and wait for guidance from CAF.’’

There are also other complications.

Some high-profile players, especially those in Europe from both sides, might decide against taking the risk to fly to Algeria, should the number of confirmed cases spike, because they could find themselves being barred from returning to their bases.

Earlier this month, Nigerian international striker, Odion Ighalo, was left behind by Manchester United, on their trip to Spain for a training camp, because the club were concerned he could be barred from entering England.

Ighalo was signed from a Chinese club last month.

“Odion will stay in Manchester, because he arrived from China in the last 14 days,” United’s manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, told MUTV.

“Because of the situation in China, we’re not sure if he’d be allowed back into England if he leaves the country again.

‘‘He’s staying here working with a personal coach, on an individual programme, and his family then can settle in England as well.

‘‘That’s a plus. Of course, he might have liked to have come with the players and get to know them, but with the risk [of border restrictions tightening], we don’t want to take that.”

Zimbabwe are second in their group with four points to their name, two behind Algeria who lead the pool which also has Botswana who have collected a single point as well as point-less Zambia who anchor the group after two round of fixtures.