FAI awaits quarantine clearance for Ireland v Bulgaria match

Nations League fixture in September will be Stephen Kenny’s first game in charge

Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia: Ireland are due to play Bulgaria there on September 3rd. Photograph: Getty Images

Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia: Ireland are due to play Bulgaria there on September 3rd. Photograph: Getty Images

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The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) is still awaiting clearance from the Government for a quarantine derogation for their international team between the upcoming Uefa Nations League fixtures.

New Ireland manager Stephen Kenny is set for his first match at the helm against Bulgaria in Sofia on September 3rd followed by the visit of Finland to the Aviva Stadium three days later.

As Bulgaria is not among the 15-nation green list published on Tuesday night, Kenny and his players would be technically subject to a 14-day quarantine on their return under the ongoing coronavirus protocols.

Only countries with a coronavirus case rate under five per 100,000 over the past 14 days were placed on the list of destinations travellers don’t have restricted movement from when they land in Ireland.

Bulgaria’s current tally is 45, the fourth highest across Europe.

Postpone

The recent surge in cases prompted the Bulgarian Football Union to postpone the start of their top-flight season by two weeks until August 7th. Over half of the country’s professional clubs have been impacted by the virus.

Cherno More Varna reported 16 cases while nine players from reigning domestic Cup winners Lokomotiv Plovdiv also tested positive earlier this month.

The FAI declined to comment on potential problems but it’s understood they are waiting on a formal exemption from the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The prevailing view is that elite athletes are essential workers but no such list has so far been published by the HSE. Taoiseach Micheál Martin was able to cite the clause on his return from the European summit in Brussels this week.

The Irish football squad will be the first major sporting team due to compete on international stage since the quarantine restrictions were introduced.

Kenny recently said he was planning to bring a squad of 23 players to Sofia for the campaign opener. His staff, including a cohort of recently-appointed additions, account for at least another dozen personnel, with FAI staff and officials bolstering the party further.

Typically, they travel two days in advance of a match on a charter flight but it’s believed Uefa may insist on away teams making their return trip on matchday to minimise risk of infection.

It is also unclear what impact the travel would have on home-based squad members, such as Jack Byrne.

Ireland’s under-21s face a trip to Slovenia for a friendly on September 7th while the women’s team are due to meet top seeds Germany in a European qualifier on September 19th. Neither country is, as yet, part of the green list.

Logistical challenges

Before then, four League of Ireland teams are scheduled to be in European action. Uefa opted to modify qualifying rounds to one-legged ties, with Dundalk (Champions League) along with Shamrock Rovers, Derry City and Bohemians (Europa League) gearing up for opening-round fixtures in mid-August. The clubs won’t discover their opposition, and possible logistical challenges, until the draw is made a week beforehand.

Uefa are working on the basis that all club and international matches will be staged behind closed doors until further notice.

Slovakia, who host Ireland in a 2021 European Championship play-off semi-final on October 8th in Bratislava, have featured on the initial green list, as have Finland, where Ireland travel six days later. Wales complete Ireland’s four-team Nations League group, contested over a 10-week period from September to November.

Sport Ireland and the Department of Sport have been contacted for comment.

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