The English Football Association have pleaded with the British government to allow their final UEFA Nations League group game against Iceland to take place at Wembley next Wednesday as planned.
Talks are continuing on Thursday between the FA and senior government officials in an attempt to clarify whether existing coronavirus regulations denying Iceland’s players and staff entry into the United Kingdom will remain in place.
The government are refusing entry to any non-UK residents who have been in or travelled through Denmark in the past 14 days after the discovery of a new COVID-19 strain on Danish mink farms. Iceland play Denmark in Copenhagen on Sunday.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had confirmed the policy will not be reviewed until Saturday but the government are expected to give the FA an indication before then as to whether elite sport will be exempt.
Germany has been mooted as a possible neutral destination if the rules are not relaxed so England can avoid forfeiting the game.
“We have asked government to consider allowing us to play our final UEFA Nations League match at Wembley Stadium, by giving travel exemption to the Icelandic team subject to strict medical protocols,” an FA spokesperson said. “The Icelandic team will have played Denmark in Copenhagen and therefore would be subject to a travel ban.
“While in Denmark they will have been under strict UEFA protocols in a sporting bubble and will be PCR tested before travelling to England. The PCR test picks up the Cluster 5 variant.
“We have agreed with the Icelandic team that they arrive on private charter to a private terminal and will only have access to their hotel and the stadium. We will also put in place additional testing over and above the multiple tests normally required for each participant and staff at the match.
“We are not asking for this support to help us have home advantage in this competitive international match, although of course that would be helpful.”We are not asking for this support to avoid a huge cost from playing an England home match in Germany, although we can ill afford the financial penalty at this time.
“The priority must be health, which is why we are asking for this support. We believe it’s in the better interests of the England team and support staff to play at Wembley Stadium rather than have international travel at this time — and then play the match under the same UEFA protocols against the same opposition, but in a different country.
“We understand the optics of an exception at a time when industries such as hauliers are not allowed to travel to Denmark. However, international footballers are amongst the most tested people on the planet and we will even conduct extra tests to go beyond the highest standard.
“We ask the government to follow the advice of their public health experts as to whether the match is safe to host in the UK and we believe an exception is justified and in the best interests of the England team. We hope the government can support us putting on the match in the safest way possible at this difficult time for everyone.”
UEFA have confirmed to ESPN that if England were unable to stage the game or relocate to Germany in time, they would be deemed to have failed to fulfil their fixture obligations and therefore would default to a 3-0 defeat.
There is no scope to rearrange the game to a later date because of the existing schedule. All Nations League fixtures must be completed in this window.
An automatic defeat would almost certainly determine whether England qualify for the knockout stages or not given they are third in Group A22 and face leaders Belgium in Brussels on Sunday.
Only the group winners go through to the semifinals. Teams level on points are then separated on goal difference and so a 3-0 defeat would mean England require a huge win in Belgium to have any chance of progressing.