By Robson Sharuko
The Algerian Government have placed their domestic football under lockdown, declaring all remaining Ligue 1 matches should be played behind closed doors, providing the biggest signal the 2021 AFCON qualifier against Zimbabwe in Blida might not go ahead as scheduled.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune made the pronouncement yesterday in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, whose epicentre in Blida, where the Desert Foxes are scheduled to host the Warriors on March 26.
“The Algerian Government, as instructed by the President of the country, has announced that all remaining matches of Algerian #Ligue1DZ season will be played behind closed doors due to the #coronavirus#Africa,” read a tweet from the Algerian top-flight league.
This is likely to increase the possibility of the match being postponed with a number of the Desert Foxes based in Europe’s top leagues, including talisman Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City, unlikely to take the risk of going into an area ravaged by coronavirus.
With many European nations adopting a tough stance towards those coming from such areas, it’s now likely many of the Euro-based stars, including the Warriors crew of captain Knowledge Musona, Marvelous Nakamba, Tino Kadewere, Teenage Hadebe and Macauley Bonne, might be barred by their clubs from traveling to Algeria.
Mike Riley, the managing director of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the body responsible for referees in English professional football, is already in self-isolation after returning home from a business trip to Malaysia.
Last night, the Italian Football Federation announced that the current Serie A season might not be completed following a Government decree issued on Monday for all sporting activities in the country to be suspended.
FIGC president, Gabriele Gravina, also put forward a number of options, should the season not be completed, including staging play-offs, not having a league champion declared for the current campaign or declaring the current standings, where Juventus lead the race, as the final table.
FIFA have already postponed all the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers which had been the set for the end of this month, at the same time that the 2021 AFCON matches are set to be played, because of the coronavirus outbreak.
‘‘Following consultation with Asia’s member associations, FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation have agreed to postpone the upcoming Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 as follows:
Matches originally scheduled to take place during the international window of 23-31 March 2020 and 1-9 June 2020 are postponed to later dates
FIFA and the AFC will discuss further details of the postponed matches.
‘‘FIFA and the AFC will continue to assess the situation in relation to COVID-19 and will decide whether further changes to the schedule of Asian FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers are required, always with the aim of protecting the safety and health of all individuals involved.’’
CAF have only said they are monitoring the situation and, as of yesterday, the continent’s football federation still maintained on their official website that the match between Algeria and Zimbabwe will be played at the Stade Mustapha Tchaker in Blida.
‘‘CAF has mandated the Medical Committee to monitor the evolution of this disease and to set up measures to protect the health of players and all actors of the game,’’ the organisation said in a statement.
‘‘A team has been set up, under the authority of the CAF President, made up of experts from various fields, particularly medical, who are essentially responsible for the health of the players and the members of the African football family.
‘‘If the situation requires, and in agreement with the countries concerned, matches behind closed doors, postponements or even cancellations are envisaged.’’
However, the venue of the reverse fixture had not yet been confirmed by CAF, as of last night, on their official fixture list despite the agreement entered into between ZIFA and SAFA for the Warriors to use Orlando Stadium in Soweto.
The fixture was the only one without a venue on the list. The upcoming game has been drenched in controversy, and uncertainty, with ZIFA chief executive, Joseph Mamutse, on Monday entering into a contract with SAFA for the Warriors to host the Desert Foxes at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on March 29.
CAF placed a blanket ban on all local stadiums from hosting international matches pending renovations, which are currently being carried out at the three major stadiums — the National Sports Stadium, Barbourfields and Rufaro.
‘‘ZIFA have failed to assure CAF that the work we are doing in the stadiums will safeguard our National Teams playing home games in Zimbabwe,’’ Coventry announced on her social media platforms yesterday, confirming The Herald story yesterday the match was now scheduled for Johannesburg.
‘‘ZIFA now have to come up with a stadium outside of Zimbabwe. Local Government and the Municipalities own and operate our sports facilities and it has then been up to that federation to organise the event. The Ministry of Sport, despite it being Sport, has had no role to play.
‘‘Good news — it has finally been agreed that the ownership and operations of the National Sports Stadium in Zimbabwe will now be transferred to Ministry of Youth, Sport, Art and recreation. ‘We have the experience and passion to now use this opportunity for Zimbabwe to become a sporting powerhouse.’’
A CAF official, responding to an email sent by Marshall Gore, the chief executive of Team Zimbabwe UK who on Monday asked where the match would be played to enable him to make travel arrangements to watch the game, replied that the venue of the game was yet to be confirmed.
‘‘Kindly note that the venue for this game is yet to be defined. As soon as it is, we will send you an email with all the requested information,’’ the CAF official said.
There are concerns at Nottingham Forest, where another Zimbabwe international footballer, Tendai Darikwa, is based after the club’s Greek owner, Evangelos Marinakis, wrote a statement on Instagram confirming he had contracted the coronavirus, just four days after meeting the club’s entire first-team squad.
The 52-year-old, who spends his time between Nottingham and Greece where he also owns the country’s top club, Olympiacos, attended Forest’s defeat by Millwall at the weekend and posed for photos with players and fans. ‘‘The recent virus has ‘visited’ me and I felt obliged to let the public know,’’ Marinakis said.
Nottingham Forest said they were seeking advice from medical professionals. ‘‘Nottingham Forest can confirm that owner Evangelos Marinakis has tested positive for the coronavirus,’’ the statement read.
‘‘The club are seeking advice from medical professionals and the relevant governing bodies to ensure the correct measures are taken.’’ The Herald