Niall Quinn: Slovakia play-off could be postponed

Niall Quinn hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off game against Slovakia being called off.

Niall Quinn: Slovakia play-off could be postponed

Niall Quinn hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Ireland’s Euro 2020 play-off game against Slovakia being called off.

The match, scheduled to take place in Bratislava on March 26, has been moved behind closed doors in response to the spread of the coronavirus but, last night, the FAI’s Deputy CEO suggested it was possible that the current plan could “change to full cancellation”.

Quinn was co-commentator for Virgin Media Sport’s coverage of the second leg Champions League game between Valencia and Atalanta in Spain, a match which was itself held behind closed doors in a move that came as no surprise to the former Ireland international.

“No, not at all,” said Quinn. “I think everybody in football listens to local government, national government and health executives and you’re literally following orders and that’s what they’re doing here.

“We’re going to have to do it ourselves for the game in Slovakia. And that may even change to full cancellation. Who knows? All football can do is take orders and react.”

In another related development closer to home, Windsor Park in Belfast is undergoing a deep clean after Linfield confirmed that one of their players had tested positive for coronavirus.

Describing the development as “very unpleasant news”, Linfield chairman Roy McGivern said:

The priority now is to look after the welfare of our players and staff. Issues around football will be addressed in due course.

Prior to yesterday’s decision to move Ireland’s play-off behind closed doors, the Slovakian authorities had already introduced a sweeping countrywide ban on sports, cultural and public events as well as decreeing that citizens returning from Italy, China, South Korea and Iran would have to remain in home quarantine for 14 days after their return.

What implications this will have for the half a dozen Italian-based players in the Slovakian squad remains to be seen.

Said Slovakian Football Association President Ján Kovácik: “Coach Pavel Hapal and his assistant Otto Brunegraf are communicating on a daily basis with players, their agents and club coaches who have more detailed information. The Association also communicates with the embassy in Italy in order to know the current situation in the country and the approach of the institutions there.”

Speaking before the move behind closed doors had been confirmed, manager Hapal said: “It would certainly be a big minus for everyone. Not just for the players, but also for the public. It would be a pity if fans cannot be at the match because the interest is huge. And we certainly need support.”

Meanwhile, after the suspension of ticket sales for the play-off game between Bosnia and Northern Ireland in Zenica, also on March 26, Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill said: “It’s not in my control, so dwelling on it too much is not really beneficial. We’ll have to follow any instructions we are given but the most important thing is our preparation and making sure that we are ready to play.

“There’s a lot of football to be played between now and then, for the players and their clubs, and there are a lot of external factors which could change in that period of time as well.”

Asked if he thought playing behind closed doors takes away home advantage, O’Neill said: “It takes away the crowd but I wouldn’t say it takes away the home advantage. Obviously you still have the travel and the settling in period, plus everything that goes with that.”

Meanwhile, there were reports from Italy last night that UEFA was coming under pressure from a number of European federations to postpone the Euro 2020 finals for a year.

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