The new coronavirus, COVID-19, has already infected more than 100,000 people worldwide and its threat is affecting football. Europe has got to work – Champions League, Europa League or Serie A matches will be played behind closed doors – but it is in Asia, a continent with greater deficits in organization and hygiene, where more measures are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus.
Almost 300 Spaniards are dedicated to professional football in the most populous continent on Earth and there are few who are developing their profession with total normality these days. In Saudi Arabia, where so far only five cases of coronavirus have been detected, “everything is developing normally,” he reveals Josep Cifré, development director at Al Hilal, although “the possibility of playing matches behind closed doors is already being studied if the spread increases.” Nor has the First Division of Oman suffered any alteration, where four Spaniards compete. “At the airport they make you fill out a series of documents to know where you come from or where you are going. Life and football continue normally,” he discovers Carlos Jimenez, physical trainer of Al Orouba. In the country 16 cases of contagion have been made public.
Similarly, the Qatar Stars League remains unchanged, where Xavi and Gabi's Al Sadd is still seven points behind the lead in the absence of six days, and the Indian Super League, which is in full semifinals for the championship. “There is no social or media alarm here like in Europe. But it is a huge country, with a huge population and organizational and hygiene needs. Now there are only 31 cases, but I would not be surprised if the number of patients increased in the coming days“, values the Catalan coach Carles Cuadrat, who struggles to win back the title with Bengaluru. Fran González, who competes in the I-League with Mohun Bagan, says that in India” they have enough to survive many other things to worry about coronavirus. “
Nor is it expected that the planned date for the start of the First Division of the Philippines will suffer any change, where Bienve Marañón and Manu Herrera will defend the title with Ceres Negros. The Bangladeshi gold category, where the Vigo Oscar Bruzon directs Bashundara Kings, also persists smoothly. Like the C-League of Cambodia. There, as in Bangladesh, there are no active cases “because the population reacted and was very cautious from the start,” says Oriol Mohedano, coach of Angkor Tiger. “We do not rule out that the competition ends up being suspended because the surrounding countries have done so,” adds the Catalan. In Indonesia, on the other hand, “the suspension of some parties in which a high risk of contagion has been identified as the Persija Jakarta-Persebaya”, details Rafael Berges, coach of the Badak Lampung.
Spaniards competing in the United Arab Emirates, up to 18, experience the coronavirus crisis with relative normality. There have only been 48 cases detected, but “colleges and universities remain closed until further notice”, reveals Beto Cabot, technical director of Al Ain grassroots: “In Emirates they have published a series of rules because the simple act of greeting implies a lot of contact“Football in lower categories has been canceled or is played behind closed doors. Like the UAE League (First Division). Without going any further, the Dubai derby between the Shabab Al Ahli by Pedro Conde and the Al Nasr by Álvaro Negredo It was played without an audience.
The 'normality' they enjoy in the United Arab Emirates is what the Spaniards crave (11) competing in the First Division of Hong Kong, where although one of the cups has been disputed it has been done in training camps “because the Government closed the stadiums, “reveals Manuel Bleda, forward of the Kitchee. The city-state, which already suffered alterations in its football due to the diplomatic conflict with China, managed to halt the advance of the coronavirus – it borders China and only has 108 cases – and will resume the league in the next few hours. It will be done, yes, behind closed doors and with restrictions. “We will not be able to use the showers in the changing rooms”, discovers Kitchee captain Dani Cancela.
Playing if public, as in Hong Kong, is one of the options that the Malaysian Federation is considering, where the local competition has not yet been affected by COVID-19 despite the fact that 83 contagions have been made public. “A meeting is scheduled next week and everything indicates that they will suspend the Super League,” predicts Jorge Álvarez, physical trainer of Johor FC.
China, South Korea and Iran, big bulbs
As the focus of the coronavirus, China was the first Asian country to paralyze its competition. Soccer there is nonexistent and even there are teams that gave vacations to their players. This is the case of the Qingdao Huanghai directed by Juan Manuel Lillo. “We do not know when we will train again,” reveals Yaki Yen. The Asian giant, however, has been able to stop the spread of the virus and it is planned that the Super League can start on April 12. Due to the veto that some countries imposed on Chinese citizens, only Jonathan Viera's Beijing Guoan has been able to debut in the Champions League, a competition that has also suffered a lot of delays in recent weeks.
Daegu, where almost 5,000 cases have been detected, is “everything is nerves and uncertainty”
The second country with the most cases of coronavirus, 7,000, is South Korea. 5,000 have been detected only in the city of Daegu, where the Luisma Hernandez He works as an analyst at Daegu FC, K-League (First Division), and coach of the reserve team. “The city has become a place of nerves and uncertainty,” discovers the canary, which only goes out “in specific cases.” “All the soccer in the country is paralyzed. Our team is being held at the club's facilities, training both in the gym and in the field but with many precautions. We check the symptoms at each meal and try to empathize because it is a very stressful situation“adds Luisma.
The third most affected country (about 5,000 cases) is Iran, where there are no Spanish soccer players but three technicians. Pepe Losada, physical trainer at Gol Gohar, says that the coronavirus “is wreaking havoc” in that territory. The Federation ordered to play the last day behind closed doors, but last Wednesday announced the suspension of the championship and its resumption next April. “We have given the players five days off and then we will resume training,” says Losada, who avoids leaving home unless it is “strictly necessary.”
Japan, Kuwait or Thailand, in pause
The J-League, where a coach and three Spanish soccer players compete this season, only managed to play one day before the suspension. Elite football is expected to return to Japan on March 15, although the matches will be played, almost certainly, behind closed doors. The Second Division was also interrupted. Juanma Delgado, forward of Avispa Fukuoka, believes that “there are many hoaxes and the coronavirus is being given too much hype” His team trains “normally” and disputes friendly “not to lose form.” Mila Martínez, coach of Suzuka Unlimited, Fourth Division, thinks that “everything will be paralyzed to prioritize the celebration of the Olympic Games“.
Nor will there be football in March in Kuwait, where eight Spaniards compete and so far 58 cases of coronavirus have been detected. Xavi Torres, player of Al Arabi, reveals that the Federation Cup dispute is planned, where his team is one match away from reaching the semifinals. Pablo Franco, coach of Al Qadsia, discovers that both he and his Spanish coaching staff are living a normal life. “The disease is raging, but we are calm. We go outside, we train … We wash our hands more regularly, yes.” “There are options for the season to end after the contracts expire. Matches could also be played every two or three days, but neither the country nor the players are prepared for that. Above is Ramadan … The quilombo that is mounted is spectacular, “completes the Madrid.
Soccer has also been suspended in Thailand, where there are only 50 cases but precautions have been taken. “A boy who had previous pathologies died. In Thailand everything is quite controlled. We continue to train, although without competing,” says David Rochela, captain of Port FC. More complicated is the situation in Lebanon, where the league has been paralyzed since last October due to internal problems in the country. “Since the first contagions were made public, several parents preferred that their children not do sports activities,” he discovers. Daniel Gimenez, Al Ahed analyst, current AFC Cup champion, and director of the Beirut Sports Club academy. “This week we received a 'suggestion' from the Ministry of Sports to suspend all sporting activity. Our next AFC Cup match has also been postponed,” he says.