Euro 2020: England v Czech Republic – Covid sees Gareth Southgate forced to play waiting game over key man Mason Mount
Gareth Southgate expects to find out this morning if one of his key players will be available for tonight’s final European Championship group game against Czech Republic as England suffered the fall-out from a Covid-19 case in the Scotland camp.
Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell were told to isolate yesterday evening as a precaution after coming into close contact with Chelsea club-mate Billy Gilmour following Friday’s England v Scotland game.
But discussions were ongoing with Public Health England about whether they might have to do so until Monday, or if they will be cleared to play at Wembley this evening.
Chelsea’s Gilmour has been ruled out of Scotland’s match against Croatia, also at 8pm tonight, after testing positive for coronavirus.
The entire England squad and staff have twice tested negative for Covid-19 since Friday’s game against a Scotland team including Gilmour but once video footage emerged of him hugging club-mates Mount and Chilwell at full-time, they were told to isolate. For how long remains to be seen.
“We don’t know at the moment,” said manager Southgate in yesterday’s 6.30pm press conference Mount had to be withdrawn from at very short notice.
“There’s obviously got to be quite a doubt (about the pair’s availability) but there’s still a lot of discussions and investigations going on behind the scenes.
“They’re isolating and we have to find out over the next 12 hours or so.”
England trained yesterday before discovering the pair would have to isolate, and although they did some tactical work Southgate had not picked a team.
Finland’s defeat to Belgium last night confirmed England’s place in the last 16, but Scotland will need to beat Croatia to join them in the knockout stages, something they have not achieved in their two previous tournaments.
Victory for the Three Lions at Wembley tonight will see them win the group and stay in London for the next round but the Czechs were the only team to beat them – indeed, not lose to them – in qualifying.
Mount has played every minute for England so far in this tournament, peforming a key role somewhere between third central midfielder and in the hole behind centre-forward Harry Kane, but left-back Chilwell is yet to make it onto the field.
Without Mount, England could draft in fans’ favourite Jack Grealish for a first start of the competition, select Marcus Rashford and move Phil Foden into Mount’s role, or switch formation to 3-4-3.
According to tournament regulations, England underwent mandatory PCR tests on Sunday, but they opted for another round yesterday in light of the news about Gilmour.
Sheffield United’s John Fleck contracted the virus in Scotland’s pre-tournament training camp and although he recovered in time, he lacked the sharpness to be on the bench in their first two games. Sergio Busquets and Leeds United’s Diego Llorente tested positive for Spain, though the latter was thought to be a “false positive”. Sweden have had two known cases, and Portugal dropped Manchester City’s Joao Cancelo from their squad after he caught the virus.
Football and the authorities will need to be careful politically not to be seen to be putting the game beyond the rules.
Uefa are already putting the Government under pressure to relax quarantine regulations for its sponsors or risk having the semi-finals and final moved to Hungary. The Champions League final was moved from Wembley to Porto when the Government stood firm over its rules in May but the indications are they may be more flexible now, with talk that as many as 60,000 fans could be allowed at those games.
Allowing Mount and Chilwell to skip the rules on isolating for 10 days after the contact would therefore go down very badly if there were not found to be extenuating circumstances which would ordinarily excuse them.
Southgate asked in March for his players to be vaccinated before the tournament but as he said, “I was fairly firmly shouted down for daring to suggest anything of the sort. I also said I totally understood where we stood in the pecking order for vaccinations. It was more important that the vulnerable received those first.
“Going forward I don’t think there’ll be a situation where positive tests rule you out because we’ll be living with it like you live with flu but we’re not at that point and the situation is different in the rest of the world in terms of the number of people vaccinated and the dangers so we have to accept we’re in the situation we are.
“We’re abiding by all the regulations and that’s why the two boys are having to isolate until we have more information and confirmation on where we stand.”