AFC Olympic Women's Football Qualifiers: Coronavirus upheaval disrupts to China's match preparations
Group B matches of Round 3 of the Olympic Women’s Football Qualifying tournament has been rescheduled for a second time as result of disruption brought on by the Coronavirus epidemic.
The tournament was set to take place in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. A decision was made by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to relocate the matches to Sydney on January 26th. Thailand, Australia, Chinese Taipei, and China are the nations that make up Group B of the AFC Qualifying tournament.
The situation has steadily worsened since the outbreak and travel restrictions have been imposed on individuals that have recently visited China by the Australia government. Necessary quarantine procedures have been put in place that have ultimately had a knock-on effect on training schedules and the feasibility of playing matches as originally scheduled.
The 32-member Chinese squad have been held in quarantine for a week in Brisbane. Pictures on social media have emerged showing players training in the corridors of the facility.
Seemingly all member associations involved have motioned an action of leniency and reached an agreement to delay the all Group B fixtures by 24 hours for matchdays 2, 3, and 4. Football Federation Australia (FFA) CEO, James Johnson stated - “The outcome will ensure that there are three full days between matchdays three and four, guaranteeing that the health and safety of all participating players is put first, which is a priority of FFA”.
The remaining three matchdays are now scheduled for February 7th, 10th and 13th with Chinese Taipei already claiming a surprise win over Thailand on matchday 1 on the 3rd. Despite a commendable degree of flexibility being shown by the governing associations involved, the less than suitable conditions for preparation are sure to hinder China’s qualifying campaign.
Playing a match just two days after being discharged from quarantine leaves little room for adequate training and the strenuous onslaught of three games over six days is sure to take its toll. China will also be without four players who are unable to travel as they live in Chinese cities currently under lockdown. They will not be able to play in the tournament at all.
Videos have emerged on social media showing former Paris Saint Germain midfielder, Wang Shuang, training on a Wuhan rooftop repeating training drills whilst wearing a respiratory mask. The posts have been met with admiration and affection from the Asian football community. The Wuhan native has been a critical member of the side and the team will surely be weakened without her.
The top two teams from Group A and B will proceed to the play-off round. The two sides that will join host nation Japan as AFC representatives will be decided there.