Germany’s World Cup preparations overshadowed by virus fears

BERLIN – Germany’s World Cup preparations have been disrupted by the coronavirus, forcing coach Hansi Flick to improvise for tournament warm-ups against Hungary and England.

Captain Manuel Neuer and Bayern Munich team-mate Leon Goretzka were forced to leave the team’s hotel on Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19, while Borussia Dortmund midfielder Julian Brandt left with flu-like symptoms after testing negative for the virus .

For Flick, it’s an unpleasant reminder that the pandemic isn’t over yet and could still play a role in Germany’s fortunes at the World Cup, which begins in Qatar in just under two months.

Flick wanted his players to “switch to tournament mode and be there from the start” this week as the team prepares for the Nations League games against Hungary in Leipzig on Friday and England in London.

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Instead, more positive cases are feared. “The alarm bells are ringing,” said midfielder Jonas Hofmann.

Team training was scheduled later on Thursday than on the previous days. Players face increased controls in the wake of positive cases. From the team hotel in Gravenbruch near Frankfurt, the team should then travel by train to Leipzig.

Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann has been called up to replace Neuer, but Barcelona’s Marc-André ter Stegen is more likely to play against Hungary. Wolfsburg’s midfielder Maximilian Arnold also joins the squad late. Flick had previously nominated Leipzig’s Benjamin Henrichs for the injured Marco Reus.

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Flick continues to aim for first place in Nations League Group A3 to qualify for next June’s finals. Hungary leads the group with seven points from four games and would qualify for the finals with a win over Germany unless Italy beat England at the same time.

Germany has six points and will stay in contention as long as they are not beaten on Friday. But if Germany loses, Flick’s team could no longer catch Hungary, and if England at least get a draw against Italy, then England against Germany would suddenly become a duel against relegation on Monday.

For the Hungarians Péter Gulácsi, Willi Orban and Dominik Szoboszlai, the game in Leipzig will be a special one. All three play for Bundesliga club Leipzig.

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“We play away and at home,” said Szoboszlai. “We will go there and enjoy it.”

Hungary beat Germany 1-1 in Budapest in June when Timo Werner and David Raum saved several Gulácsi chances.

Hungary will be without the injured Roland Sallai and Zsolt Nagy on Friday.

“Germany are the strongest team we could meet,” said Hungary coach Marco Rossi. “We will do everything we can to make their work as difficult as possible so that our fans can be proud of us again.”

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