NIGERIA’S forthcoming African Cup of Nations qualifier slated for March 23 at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba is facing the threat of being postponed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Later this months, the Super eagles were due to face the Leone Stars at home and then four days later, travel to Sierra Leone for the return leg. However, over the last week, the dreaded coronavirus has spread to Nigeria and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is consequently considering postponing the match unless adequate measures are in place to curb the further spread of the virus.
NFF chiefs are going to decide on the matter before the week runs out but over the weekend, Fifa president Gianni Infantino refused to rule out postponing international football matches in response to the escalating global threat. Already, matches in the leading two divisions in Switzerland, were postponed on Friday February 28 after the government banned all events involving more than a thousand people.
In Italy, five Serie A games were played behind closed doors yesterday and the clash between AC Milan and Atlanta was postponed. Leagues in Japan and South Korea were postponed earlier last week and with several players, including those from Nigeria involved in African Nations Cup games coming from Europe where the virus threat has been visible over the last two weeks, several federations have started taking a second critical look at the games ahead.
Mr Infantino said: “The health of persons is much more important than any football game. That’s why we have to look at the situation and hope that the coronavirus will decrease rather than increase.
“At the moment it looks like it is still increasing. If games have to be postponed or played without spectators until it is over, then we have to go through that.”
And while hopeful that next month’s international friendlies will go ahead, Infantino added: “I wouldn’t exclude anything at this moment. I hope we will never have to get into this direction. I think it will be difficult in any case to make a global ban because the situation is really different.”
There are now also fears that the coronavirus outbreak could yet threaten the Euro 2020 football championships starting in June and the Tokyo Olympics, due to get under way in July. Mr Infantino was sceptical about the prospect of a large number of matches being played behind closed doors, however.
He added: “Every competition organiser has to decide what is best for him. In the short term, it can be a solution in order to move on but you cannot imagine a few months of a competition with several matches played behind closed doors.”