Scotland’s manager, Steve Clarke, has dismissed any notion of Monday’s Nations League match in the Czech Republic losing all value on account of coronavirus issues.
The Czech FA announced late on Friday night – after the team defeated Slovakia 3-1 – that the fixture was cancelled. The first the Scottish FA heard about this was via social media. Uefa subsequently insisted the game in Olomouc must take place. European football’s governing body has released rules that state international games should be played if a team can call upon 13 players, one of whom must be a goalkeeper.
The Czechs now say their “team will consist [of] new players and staff members”, with numerous clubs reluctant to let their players join the setup. The West Ham midfielder Tomas Soucek and the Roma striker Patrik Schick are self-isolating after coming into contact with a backroom staff member who tested positive for Covid-19. The Czechs delayed their departure for Slovakia by 24 hours while the entire squad was retested and the players made the 200-mile journey by road after splitting up into small groups.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Clarke, “and you just have to react to certain situations. It would be unfair to go any further than that.”
When asked whether any clubs had asked that their players do not travel to the Czech Republic, he replied: “Absolutely not.” Ian Maxwell, the Scottish FA’s chief executive, subsequently admitted: “Obviously clubs are concerned.”
Clarke gave the impression he was not altogether happy with the curious buildup but insisted his players have not lost focus. Scotland toiled for long spells of Friday’s 1-1 draw with Israel, a rehearsal for next month’s Euro 2020 play-off semi-final. “The game is going ahead, nothing has changed for us,” Clarke said of the match in Olomouc. “The [postponement] announcement didn’t affect us in any way whatsoever. We just told the players they had to prepare for the game as normal. If Uefa hadn’t called off the game, it was going ahead. There was never any doubt in our minds that the game would go ahead. What squad the Czech Republic would have, we couldn’t influence.
“We have top people looking after us and we are following all the protocols. We have had assurances from Uefa and the Czech Republic that the new boys coming into the squad and the staff will be tested properly. Everything will be done properly and we are going there in a bubble, we don’t need to come across anybody. I have had four Covid tests in the last 12 days. We are good to go and we have to take at face value that everything is good on the other side.”
Clarke and his players are due to fly to the Czech Republic on Sunday evening. In a statement issued on Saturday, Maxwell said: “We were as surprised as Uefa to learn of the statement posted on the official FACR channels. Following extensive conversations late last night and this morning we have received categorical assurance that the match goes ahead.
“Czech Republic have confirmed they will be able to fulfil their obligations to the match and, more importantly, to the stringent Covid-19 testing regime that is sacrosanct to ensure the safety of our players and staff.
“While we empathise with all national associations during this period of global uncertainty, nonetheless we required and received absolute assurance that we will be entering a safe and secure environment having worked diligently in Scotland to maintain safety and adherence to Uefa’s necessary Covid-19 protocols.”