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Liverpool-Arsenal tie off amid COVID chaos

A COVID-19 outbreak among Liverpool’s players and staff has led to their League Cup semi-final first leg at Arsenal being postponed, adding to the chaos in global soccer being caused by the fast-spreading omicron variant.

The English Football League, which runs the competition, approved a request from Liverpool on the eve of the match for Thursday’s game to be called off because of a slew of positive tests at the club that has led to the closure of its training ground.

Player availability had already been impacted because of injuries and absences for the African Cup of Nations, which is depriving Liverpool of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita.

Africa’s continental championship itself faces more major problems after Mane’s Senegal team were forced to delay their flight to Cameroon after three more players and six members of the backroom staff tested positive for the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Friday’s Bundesliga game between Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach is also in danger because of the number of coronavirus-infected players.

The problems in English top-flight football have been multiplying with the first leg between Liverpool and Arsenal, which had been scheduled to take place at Arsenal on Thursday, now to be staged at Anfield on January 13 with the second leg now set for the Emirates Stadium on January 20.

Pepijn Lijnders, the assistant coach who has been filling in for Jurgen Klopp while the Liverpool manager is in COVID-19 isolation, was one of “multiple players and staff” who tested positive in the latest round of checks on Tuesday.

The wave prompted the club to shut its first-team training facilities on Wednesday with practice cancelled on Tuesday too.

In total, 18 Premier League games have been postponed in recent weeks because of outbreaks in squads.

Other major European leagues have been on planned winter breaks, with their teams starting to return to training and encountering problems of their own.

Bayern Munich sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic reported: “At the moment we have 10 outfield players and two goalkeepers (available). So we’re thinking about how we can play the game (against Monchengladbach) and have discussed the matter with the German soccer league.”

The news of more virus cases before the start of the African Cup of Nations on Sunday underlines fears that the pandemic will cause chaos there.

In the host nation Cameroon, less than 3% of the population has been fully vaccinated and top European clubs have made clear their concerns over sending their African players there.

A growing number of teams have been affected by virus cases even before Africa’s biggest event has kicked off.

Cameroon announced last month they had positive cases in their squad, while Burkina Faso, who play the hosts in the first game in Yaounde, have had to leave players behind in Abu Dhabi because of the virus.

Cape Verde and Tunisia have also reported new cases in their squads, while Gambia and Ivory Coast were forced to cancel warm-up games because of outbreaks.

Malawi left three players behind in Saudi Arabia, where the team had a training camp, because they tested positive while Nigeria left striker Victor Osimhen, of Italian club Napoli, out of their squad.

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