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Baraclough's Northern Ireland bow set for neutral venue switch after coronavirus spike in Romania

 

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Northern Ireland's clash with Romania could move to a neutral venue

Northern Ireland's clash with Romania could move to a neutral venue

Northern Ireland's clash with Romania could move to a neutral venue

Ian Baraclough's first game in charge of Northern Ireland could be relocated to a neutral venue after a spike in Covid-19 cases in Romania.

Northern Ireland are slated to play their opening Nations League match in Bucharest on Friday, September 4.

However, less than 50 days before Baraclough and co are due to travel to eastern Europe, Romania has just registered a record high for people infected with coronavirus in the country.

Officials reported 799 new daily cases on Friday and government health experts in the country fear there may be over 1,000 new daily cases throughout August.

The government have just extended their state of alert for another 30 days which makes it mandatory to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces, indoor restaurants are still closed while all public gatherings for sport and entertainment remain banned.

Romania is still not on the British government's exempt list for travel, meaning players and officials would be required to quarantine for 14 days on their return to the UK from Bucharest.

That would then rule the Northern Ireland team out of performing in the second Nations League match against Norway at Windsor Park on Monday, September 7.

It would also instigate an immediate club v country row as club managers will be unwilling to allow their players to miss three weeks of action.

The Irish FA are hoping that, if the Covid-19 situation in Romania does not improve over the next few weeks, UEFA will step in and inform both associations that the game will be played at a neutral venue in Europe where it is deemed safe.

An Irish FA source told Sunday Life Sport: "It is highly likely the game is going to be played behind closed doors, so really home advantage is taken away with that. Therefore, playing at a neutral venue, if it is not safe to do so or the quarantine rules remain in place, might be the most sensible option - especially if other countries are able to play across Europe."

An official Irish FA spokesperson said: "We remain in regular dialogue with UEFA and the relevant health authorities on this matter and shall monitor the situation accordingly."

When the draw was made for the Nations League in March, hundreds of Northern Ireland fans made travel plans to attend the game in Bucharest.

Gary McAllister, spokesperson for the Amalgamation of Northern Ireland Supporters' Clubs, insists his group haven't been told officially that fans will not be allowed to attend the game.

He told Sunday Life Sport: "The Amalgamation have been communicating regularly with the Irish FA and with UEFA through the Football Supporters Europe network. We've been monitoring the situation in Romania with regard Covid-19 cases and also the FCO Travel Advice and we will take our lead from their guidance. As soon as we find out any relevant information, we will share that news with Northern Ireland fans."

Baraclough is hoping both games against Romania and Norway go ahead so he can assess his squad ahead of the Euro 2020 Play-Off Semi-Final against Bosnia and Herzegovina in Zenica on Thursday, October 8.

The new Northern Ireland boss will be sweating on the match fitness of his players as the Premier League and Championship seasons do not start until after the September international window.

Belfast Telegraph