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Meltdown for Euro 2020

UEFA expected to postpone finals

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MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 12:  Milan Skriniar of FC Internazionale in action during the Coppa Italia Semi Final match between FC Internazionale and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 12: Milan Skriniar of FC Internazionale in action during the Coppa Italia Semi Final match between FC Internazionale and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

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MILAN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 12: Milan Skriniar of FC Internazionale in action during the Coppa Italia Semi Final match between FC Internazionale and SSC Napoli at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 12, 2020 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images)

Mick McCarthy's ruse to have his Ireland team train at an empty Aviva Stadium in nine days' time, so the players could 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 today expects the Slovakia v Republic of Ireland play-off for Euro 2020, or the Bosnia-Northern Ireland duel on the same day, to go ahead on March 26th.

McCarthy, who cancelled a press conference and squad announcement planned for Dublin today, is officially working on the basis that the Slovakia fixture goes ahead, which is why he thought that training at the Aviva, instead of FAI HQ, 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 the game. Domestically, incidents of Covid-19 are on the rise there, five more cases were 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, where he plays for Rafa Benitez's club, 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 there expect the game to go ahead.

Even Ireland midfielder Jack Byrne was sceptical.

Restrictions

"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 here ahead of the game, as planned.

An FAI statement, issued a teatime on Thursday, stated the "cessation of all football under its jurisdiction" until March 29th.

League of Ireland clubs are today debating whether "cessation of all football" 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 under the terms of the national decree.

But the shock waves from the Covid-19 crisis now mean that it's not just the play-offs that are in trouble, the entire Euro 2020 tournament is in danger of being postponed for 12 months, at best, 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.

Delaying the Euro 2020 finals for a year, which is expected to happen, will have implications down the food chain of the game, almost certainly causing disruption to the Women's Euro Finals in 2021, as well as the World Cup qualifying campaign.

UEFA showed an alarming lack of urgency with a statement on Thursday 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.

Football-wise there was a blow for McCarthy as Sheffiled United confirmed that Enda Stevens will be out for a spell.