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Monday 21 March 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Soccer, Sports


Covid cases have teams on edge
Solomon Islands beat the Cook Islands 2-0 in the opening match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Oceania Qualifers. Photo: OFC Media

There are concerns the withdrawal of some teams from the Oceania FIFA World Cup Qualifying tournament will give some teams an easier path into the knockout rounds.

Sunday’s third round of matches in Qatar were cancelled after the Vanuatu and Cook Islands squads returned a number of positive cases of Covid-19.

Vanuatu were also unable to play their opening round match in Group A against Tahiti and have since withdrawn from the competition, with the top two in each group advancing to the playoffs.

On Friday a number of Cook Islands players tested positive for Covid-19. The national side had to forfeit its match against Tahiti supposed to be played yesterday.

All four teams in Group B have so far returned negative Covid tests and Papua New Guinea defender Alwin Komolong said it was not an even playing field.

“Amongst us we're like it's a bit unfair that the other pool it will probably end up that Solomon Islands and Tahiti will basically just walk on into the semi finals,” he said.

“We’re just basically doing what we do. We're not really affected too much by what's happening in the other pool, but I think OFC have quite a dilemma on their hands with how the tournament has played out with regards to Covid.”

The PNG Kapuls are staying in the same Doha hotel as the Cook Islands and Solomon Islands squads, but Komolong said they all returned a negative rapid antigen test on Sunday morning.

“The night after the game we saw a few of the Cooks but we didn’t really talk to them or came in contact with them. Literally the next day we found they have Covid and were positive and ever since then in the hotel we've all kept to ourselves more or less.

“After it happened the OFC basically have started testing almost every other day. Masked everything – they’re policing quite a few things now which they weren’t doing before this tournament started so it’s all a bit reactionary right now,” he said.

“We had some freedom in the hotel: we can go to the gym, the pool, the recovery sauna and that kinda stuff but every since the Covid thing happened they've come down with staff saying we can't go to the pool, we can't be in big groups, we can’t go to the sauna.

“The other day (striker) Tommy Semmy put a photo online when we were doing recovery in the ice-bath and the spa pools and they sort of questioned that. We had to say it's recovery and there's nothing wrong with it.”

Fiji coach Flemming Serritslev said they already had a number of protocols in place to minimise the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak in camp.

“As long as it's not in our group it’s not a worry at all about us,” he said.

“We have taken very good care. We have been living a very safe life - only been living in our own bubble so we have done what we could do to avoid coming in this situation that Vanuatu and the Cook Islands was in.”

Under Qatar health rules the positive cases must isolate for at least seven days, meaning any major outbreak would likely end a team's participation in the tournament.

“It’s all depending does it hit one player (or) does it hit three or four players - it's impossible to say,” Serritslev explained. “Right now, I just hope that we will not be hit by so many players that we will not be able to line up a team.”

Two teams from Groups A and B will advance to the semi-finals of the OFC qualifiers, with the eventual winners playing off against the fourth placed team from the CONCACAF confederation for a berth at the World Cup Finals.