Hong Kong ‘extremely unlikely’ to travel to Iran for World Cup qualifier: HKFA chief

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South China Morning Post – HONG KONG, Soccer chief Pui Kwan-kay said it was “highly unlikely” that Hong Kong’s World Cup Asian zone qualifier against Iran in March will go ahead in Tehran because of the coronavirus outbreak, but hoped to clear the air with governing bodies as to whether the clash can go ahead.

Hong Kong are expected to visit Tehran’s 78,000-seat Azadi Stadium for the away World Cup match on March 26 before returning for their home tie against Iraq in the group C qualifiers five days later.

Hong Kong Football Association chairman Pui is deeply concerned with the city’s strict quarantine measures that have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus after a surge of positive Covid-19 cases were recorded in the Middle East nation in recent weeks. In addition, Hong Kong has issued a “red” outbound travel alert for the country, further complicating matters and making the March clash less likely to happen.

From midnight on Sunday, all travellers arriving in the city, including Hong Kong residents, will be required to spend two weeks in quarantine if they have visited Iran during the past 14 days, according to a government statement released on Friday.

“I doubt very much if we will still send a team to Iran after these new precautionary measures [were put in place],” said Pui. “If our players are required to be placed in quarantine centres after returning from Tehran, I don’t think clubs would be willing to release their players for the qualifying match. Most of all, how can we play the home match against Iraq just five days later if all the players are still in quarantine?

“We would seek advice from Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation as soon as possible because the two World Cup matches are fast approaching and the situation is quite urgent.”

Iraq are current leaders of the group on 11 points, followed by Bahrain (9), Iran (6) and Hong Kong (5) with Cambodia bottom on one point.

Iran and Italy are the latest two countries that have been ravaged by the coronavirus which first originated in Wuhan in China. Japan and South have also been hard hit with Hong Kong also recording 94 cases.

It is understood the AFC will hold emergency meetings with representatives of its member associations and its Leagues from both the East and West regions starting on Monday as they try to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. The meeting will be held in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

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