Linfield is set to be handed a bye into the next round of Champions League qualifying – and the additional £250k prize money that goes with it after their preliminary round final against FC Drita was called off yesterday.

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With less than two hours until kick-off, UEFA announced that the game would not be taking place due to two of the Kosovan team’s players testing positive for Covid-19 and the entire side being placed into quarantine by the Swiss authorities.

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One player tested positive on Friday and was put into quarantine along with one team-mate with whom he had been in close contact. However, on Monday a second player tested positive after being in contact with other members of the club’s delegation over the weekend. After the governing body’s confirmation that the match would not take place, Linfield is set to be awarded a spot in the first qualifying round tie against Legia Warsaw next week.

Linfield stated: “Tonight’s UEFA Champions League game between Drita and Linfield has been postponed following a decision taken by the Swiss authorities in conjunction with Uefa.”

The decision follows confirmation that a second Drita player has tested positive for Covid-19. The matter is being referred to Uefa’s control and disciplinary body for a decision to be taken following Annex I of the 2020-21 Uefa Champions League Regulations which were approved by the Uefa Executive Committee last week.

Uefa has advised that this reinforces the importance for all teams, players, officials, and all involved in fully respecting the Uefa return to play protocols. The Linfield team was advised of the decision onboarding the coach to travel to the game and have instead traveled to the stadium for a training session. Uefa said that the second positive test prompted the Swiss authorities to put the whole Kosovan team into quarantine.

The relevant rules are the new Annex I of the Regulations of the Uefa Champions League, approved by Uefa’s Executive Committee earlier this month due to the coronavirus pandemic. They dictate that the team that cannot play the match will be held responsible and deemed to have forfeited the game 3-0.

In terms of their ultimate on-field ambitions of reaching the Europa League group stages, defeat to either Drita or Legia Warsaw next week still sees the Blues drop into the second qualifying round of Uefa’s secondary competition, three ties away from the competition proper.

While Champions League progression, unless it is followed up by an upset in the Polish capital, does little to enhance their on-field prospects, it will certainly provide an added boost to the Windsor Park coffers thanks to the additional £250k prize money that goes with participation in the first qualifying round. The unfortunate incident highlights the precarious nature of the game as it navigates a path through the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The 2019-2020 Danske Bank Premiership season had to be stopped in March after Linfield confirmed a player had contracted the virus and the increasing infection rate is a concern. Scottish football has been rocked, with Celtic and Aberdeen having their next two league matches postponed after their players broke lockdown rules. It’s also emerged that preparations for Dundalk’s Champions League tie with Celje next Wednesday have been disrupted after the start of the football season in Slovenia was delayed for 10 days due to a Covid-19 scare.

Celje was due to begin their campaign tonight and play another match on Saturday before next week’s encounter with Dundalk in Hungary – the fixture moved there as Slovenia is not on the green list. However, those games are off after details emerged of positive COVID tests at three clubs. Crewe United have closed their facilities for a deep clean after a visitor to the club’s bar tested positive for Covid-19.

The Mid-Ulster League outfit posted a statement on their social media channels to offer guidance to anyone who may have visited the club at the weekend. Crewe hosted the Danske Bank Premiership side Cliftonville on Saturday in a memorial game in honor of Tommy Breslin.

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