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Fans set for return to sporting venues in England with no Covid restrictions

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Sports venues in England are set to return to full capacity from 19 July after the government announced plans to ease the remaining restrictions on social distancing.

Crowds have either been kept out entirely or allowed in severely restricted numbers since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the UK in March last year. Test events with higher attendances have been held as part of a Government programme since April.

However, the Government is confident that the success of the vaccine rollout has helped to break the link between rates of infections and rates of hospitalisation and death due to Covid-19.

A final decision on whether to lift the remaining restrictions in England on 19 July will be taken next Monday, but the intention is for stadiums to operate at full capacity from that date.

Recent test events have trialled the use of Covid certification – where spectators must provide proof of either full vaccination, a recent negative test or existing immunity – but these so-called ‘vaccine passports’ will not now be compulsory for entry.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at Monday afternoon’s press conference: “We’ll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.

“From step four we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow all businesses to reopen, including nightclubs, we will lift the limit on named visitors to care homes and the numbers of people attending concerts, theatre, and sports events.”

The decision to allow sports venues to reopen without any restrictions ends a period where spectators have been either totally barred or restricted to small numbers.

A first attempt at reopening with venues at up to one-third of normal capacity on 1 October last year was scrapped amid rising cases, hospitalisations and deaths, with the country entering a second national lockdown just over a month afterwards.

Fans did return in very small numbers when the government instituted the regionalised tier system at the start of December, but again a spike in cases and deaths led to that being abandoned by the end of that month.

The government’s Events Research Programme (ERP) got under way in April and is now into its third phase, and has been looking at ways to get spectators back into venues in financially viable numbers.

The findings from the first phase of the ERP were published on 25 June. It concluded that there were no substantial outbreaks linked to the nine sporting and cultural events featured in phase one, and found only 28 positive cases linked to the more than 58,000 people who took part in the test events. Those events included the FA Cup semi-final, one FA Cup semi-final, the Carabao Cup final and the World Snooker Championship.

However, the report said the data should be treated with “extreme caution” due to the low return rate of PCR tests from the participants.

Since 17 May, all venues in England have been allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis as part of step three of the Covid recovery road map. For outdoor venues with a seated capacity of 16,000 or above, the limit is 10,000 or 25 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest.

For outdoor venues with less seating than that, the limit is 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lowest. For indoor venues, the limit is 1,000 or 50 per cent capacity, whichever is lowest.

Monday’s news will be positively received by sports clubs and governing bodies throughout the country.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has previously stated his hope that stadiums would be at full capacity for the start of the 2021/22 season in mid-August, while at EFL level the restoration of matchday revenue will have a hugely positive impact on club finances, which have been devastated by the pandemic.

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Nigeria Edge Cape Verde in Qatar World Cup Qualifier

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The Super Eagles continued their 100 per cent record against Cape Verde in their second match of the 2022 World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday.

The Nigerian team won the game 2-1 after staging a comeback.

A 75th-minute own goal by Cape Verde earned Nigeria a 2-1 win in their qualifying clash in Mindelo on Tuesday, a result that stabilized the Super Eagles’ leadership of the pool as they await a home-and-away fixture against Central African Republic next month.

Dylan dos Santos steered the home team in front after 19 minutes of an intense back-and-forth by both sides, when he slipped behind the Eagles’ rearguard and slammed a rocket of a shot past goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.

The three-time African champions refused to be brow-beaten, and launched series of attacks, with Chidera Ejuke forcing the opposing goalkeeper to an acrobatic save in the 27th minute. Two minutes later, an alert Victor Osimhen would pull Nigeria level, stabbing home from close range after the goalkeeper punched following a defensive blunder.

In the 41st minute, the lively Ejuke again rattled the Cape Verde number one, before Osimhen came close to adding another one from a corner with a minute to recess.

Kelechi Iheanacho and six other UK-based players were absent when the Super Eagles played the Blue Sharks in Mindelo.

The players were forced out from the tie after the UK government insisted individuals who travel to “red zones” — which Cape Verde falls into — must quarantine for 10 days upon return.

Aside from the seven UK-based players, Serie A defender, Ola Aina, also did not travel with the squad to Mindelo, and returned to Italy instead.

In the second half, Ahmed Musa latched onto a centre by Osimhen as the Eagles pushed forward, but his tame shot was easily collected. Substitute Onyekuru was also guilty of putting too low a purchase on his shot in the 73rd minute as Nigeria streamed to the opposition area.

Two minutes later, in a spectacular backpass to his goalkeeper, Kenny Santos scored an own goal as the ball floated above the goaltender and landed in the net. The goal put Nigeria in front and eventually gave the Super Eagles the three points on the night.

Victory took the Eagles to maximum six points from two matches, three points ahead of second –placed Liberia, ahead of the Day 3 and 4 games scheduled for October.

 

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WC Qualifier: Nigeria to face Cape Verde without UK-based Stars

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The Super Eagles will tackle the Blue Sharks of Cape Verde this afternoon in Match Day 2 of Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier without the services of UK-based players.

The Super Eagles contingent landed on the island of Mindelo yesterday morning, after a four-hour flight from Lagos aboard a special Air Peace jet.

There were 21 players on board, following the departure of UK-based players, who returned to their base as a result of UK authorities COVID-19 protocols and guidelines that must be observed by anyone returning to Britain after visiting a country with COVID-19 red label, of which Cape Verde is one.

Today’s encounter, scheduled for the 5,000 –capacity Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena, affords a number of ambitious fresh legs not deployed in Friday’s 2-0 win over Liberia in Lagos to stake claims for permanent shirts in the Nigerian squad.

The absence of Olaoluwa Aina, William Ekong, and Leon Balogun probably means that Italy –based Tyronne Ebuehi, Chidozie Awaziem of FC Boavista in Portugal, and Spain–based Kenneth Omeruo will start against the Blue Sharks this evening.

The departures of two-goal hero Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi also open the door for perhaps Terem Moffi and Henry Onyekuru. But it is in the midfield that Coach Gernot Rohr would have to enlist entirely unaccustomed partners and charge them to deliver.

Oghenekaro Etebo, Wilfred Ndidi, and Joseph Ayodele-Aribo have all returned to the UK.

Coach Rohr may opt to deploy the versatile Abdullahi Shehu to the midfield as he has done a couple of times, most recently in Sierra Leone against the Leone Stars in a 2021 AFCON qualifier. Russia–based Chidera Ejuke, Italy–based former junior international Kingsley Michael, and new face Innocent Bonke from Sweden are available.

Captain Ahmed Musa will earn his 100th cap for Nigeria, 11 years after he won his first against Madagascar in Calabar if he takes any part in today’s encounter.

Three points will consolidate Nigeria’s leadership of Group C, confirmed after the victory over Liberia that followed the draw between Cape Verde and the Central African Republic in Douala. A win will guarantee Nigeria a minimum of three points ahead of any other team in the pool, even if Liberia’s Lone Star is victorious against Central African Republic in Monrovia.

A win will also brighten the path of the three–time African champions to the knockout final round, given that home-and-away fixture against the Central African Republic is what is on the plate in October.

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Conte breaks silence, says pre-deal with Arsenal not true

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Antonio Conte’s agent, Federico Pastorello has revealed that the coach has not agreed to a pre-deal with Arsenal FC.

There have been speculations that Conte is in line to replace Mikel Arteta at the Emirates after the later failed to win a single game this season in the Premier League.

The Gunners have also not recorded any goal in their defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Although Conte is out of work since leaving Inter Milan, he is not close to returning to the dugout.

Transfer specialist, Fabrizio Romano, tweeted: “There’s absolutely NO pre agreement between Antonio Conte and Arsenal. Conte has no verbal/pre-agreement with any club and he’s free.

“Federico Pastorello – agent close to Conte since years – confirms to @Freddie_Paxton: “Rumours about Arsenal pre-deal are not true”.

There’s absolutely NO pre agreement between Antonio Conte and Arsenal. Conte has no verbal/pre agreement with any club and he’s free.

Federico Pastorello – agent close to Conte since years – confirms to @Freddie_Paxton: “Rumours about Arsenal pre-deal are not true”.

— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 5, 2021

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