A match in Andorra, ranked 156 in the world, should be little more than a box-ticking exercise for the European Championship runners-up, who are three wins from qualifying for the Qatar World Cup and will rest key players ahead of Tuesday’s more challenging-looking visit of Hungary.
There was plenty of excitement shortly after England left the Estadi Nacional yesterday, but despite it all the game will go ahead as planned.
The Three Lions trained at the ground before manager Gareth Southgate and captain-for-the-night Kieran Trippier spoke to the media with the vaccination of footballers again a topic. Shortly after the squad left the 3,300-capacity stadium a fire broke out on the television gantry, with black smoke filling the air as flames ripped through the structure.
Stadium staff tried to get the blaze under control with sprinklers before the fire brigade arrived, with one eye witness reporting welders working there when the fire started.
The Andorran Football Federation has confirmed the match is unaffected.
“No personal harm has been reported, only material damages and the schedule will continue as foreseen,” said a spokesman.
“The match will be played.”
The clean-up operation continued as Andorra trained yesterday evening, with some areas coned off.
Part of the dugout melted and the fourth official’s shelter was destroyed, along with the video assistant referee’s monitor. Walls were blackened and there was debris on the artificial surface.
Damaged areas of the pitch are set to be replaced before the game, with Andorra head coach Koldo Alvarez relaxed about the entire situation.
“I’ve no idea about the fire, how it started or any information about it,” he said.
“I think that what we have to do is congratulate everybody because there has been no personal harm, which is the most important part.”
Andorra have only won three World Cup qualifiers in their history, and they are yet to score in five matches against England, but have conceded 20 goals.
Meanwhile, Southgate admits criticism of his public support for the Covid-19 vaccination programme could make others think twice about discussing the issue –suggesting “conspiracy theories” could be preventing players from getting jabbed.
The England manager presented a video in the summer urging people to get vaccinated and was abused online as a result.
Vaccine uptake amongst professional footballers has been sporadic, with Southgate admitting he is unsure how many of his squad have received both doses.
“I don’t have all the data and statistics (but) I would sense that younger people are at a different scale in terms of uptake to older people,” he said.
“They seem to be more susceptible to social media posts or living their lives on social media, where a lot of those (anti-vaccination) theories maybe abound. We might just talk to our GP.
“But look, who knows, I could be sitting here in five years’ time and have been wrong.
“Could I 100 per cent say that the vaccination programme is safe? Well, I couldn’t because I’m not a chemist and I’m not a doctor and I’m not a scientist.
“I would imagine we wouldn’t be in the position we are on the mass vaccination programme without research, and governments and medical people being totally sure, so I am comfortable in taking that risk.”
All England players who have spoken to the media in the build-up to the game have been asked if they are fully vaccinated – an issue that has grown in importance since reports Qatar might not be prepared to allow unvaccinated players into the country for next year’s tournament – but most have preferred not to answer. Southgate pointed to the abuse he received for supporting the NHS vaccination drive as a possible reason why.
“Others might feel less comfortable and have some anxiety,” he said. “I guess that would be why perhaps they might feel less confident about speaking up.
“If you’re receiving messages when you support the programme that say: ‘You could be up in front of a Nuremberg type trial in 10 years,’ and people are quite vicious with comments, it does make you think twice about speaking out.
“I’m comfortable I think it was the right thing to do a video for the NHS but I also recognise that others might not be so keen to put themselves in that situation.
“Our doctor over the last year-and-a-half has always spoken to the players about the current situation in terms of infection in the country. He’s always explaining the benefits of vaccination in that context.
“I’ll always speak to the players about anything in their lives. But we are here to win football matches first and foremost.”
Kalvin Phillips, Harry Maguire, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Patrick Bamford are amongst the players who missed the trip through injury but tonight could give Barnsley-born John Stones the opportunity of some much-needed game-time. The centre-back played the whole of September’s qualifiers against Hungary and Poland, but has not appeared for Manchester City since May’s Champions League final.
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