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Coronavirus: Republic of Ireland v Slovakia Euro 2020 qualifier to be played without supporters


Mick McCarthy

Mick McCarthy

PA Wire/PA Images

Mick McCarthy

Republic of Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off semi-final in Bratislava is to be played behind closed doors, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in the central European country.

Media reports in Slovakia confirmed the news today, with the decision being the latest move taken by the Slovak government after it banned all sporting activity for two weeks yesterday.

More than 2,200 Ireland supporters have bought tickets for the game.

The Slovakian FA had said yesterday that they would "respect" any decision by their government on the Ireland play-off, including the option of playing it behind closed doors.

They had called off all underage football but planned to allow the national league to proceed.

Last night Slovakia prime minister Peter Pellegrini decreed that, in order to prevent the further spread of coronavirus, all sporting activity would be cancelled for two weeks, starting yesterday.

That ban ends just three days before the play-off semi-final in Bratislava's national stadium and would make preparations for the game incredibly difficult.

The FAI said it would "continue to heed the advice of the Irish Government and UEFA in relation to this game."

Meanwhile, the Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina has postponed ticket sales for their Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final against Northern Ireland, also on March 26, due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"In order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and in accordance with the recommendations of the relevant institutions, the ticket sale is postponed for several days," the Bosnian FA said on its website

"A new ticket sale date will be announced later."

If the game does go ahead as planned, Jack Byrne could square up against a familiar Slovakian face.

Byrne's stellar start to the season for Shamrock Rovers has not only put him in the frame to be part of the squad named on Friday, but also to play a role in the Euro play-off. Slovakia's main creative spark, Albert Rusnak, was part of the same Manchester City youth team managed by Patrick Vieira and the pair have remained close since they departed the Etihad Stadium for different ventures.

While Byrne is the hottest property of the domestic game, Rusnák has settled in Major League Soccer (MLS) with Real Salt Lake. He was a mainstay of Slovakia's Euro campaign, figuring in seven of their eight qualifiers, and scoring in the opener against Hungary.

"Albert will be a threat for Slovakia, make no mistake," warned Byrne, capped by McCarthy in two friendlies last year. "He's more of a winger than a striker, but has an eye for a goal himself. I could tell the gaffer all about Albert, but I think he'll need more than my advice to deal with him."

Byrne reveals that it was Rusnak's loan to Dutch club SC Cambuur that convinced him to follow suit.

The Dubliner excelled during his spell in the top-flight Eredivisie - earning his first call-up to the Ireland senior squad before Euro 2016.

"Albert was two years older than me, but lived in the same digs as Ian Lawlor when I first started travelling over to Manchester City," explained the Hoops playmaker.

"The three of us always hung around together and he moved to Cambuur before I went in 2015.

"I ended up playing against him when he joined Groningen. That's a derby game and he got an unbelievable reception from the Cambuur fans.

"When he heard that I was travelling to Dubai during the off-season, he invited me to meet his wife and child.

"We haven't spoken much about the play-off, but I'm sure there will be some banter over the next few weeks. I just hope to stay in the Ireland squad and be involved in the play-off."

Irish Independent