Germany’s World Cup preparations overshadowed by virus fears

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BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s preparations for the World Cup have been disrupted by the coronavirus, forcing coach Hansi Flick to improvise for tournament warm-up matches against Hungary and England.

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

It’s an unwelcome reminder for Flick that the pandemic is not over and could still play a part in Germany’s fortunes at the World Cup, which begins in Qatar in just under two months.

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

But instead, there are fears of other positive cases. Midfielder Jonas Hofmann said “the alarm bells are ringing”.

The team’s practice was scheduled for later on Thursday than it had been on previous days. Players are facing increased checks following the positive cases. The team was then to travel to Leipzig by train from the team hotel in Gravenbruch, near Frankfurt.

Hoffenheim goalkeeper Oliver Baumann has been called up as Neuer’s replacement, although Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen is more likely to feature against Hungary. Wolfsburg midfielder Maximilian Arnold is also a late addition to the squad. Flick had previously called up Benjamin Henrichs from Leipzig to replace the injured Marco Reus.

Flick is still aiming for top spot in Nations League Group A3 to secure qualification for the final next June. Hungary lead the group with seven points from four games and would qualify for the final with a victory over Germany if Italy did not beat England at the same time.

Germany have six points and will remain in contention as long as they avoid defeat on Friday. But if Germany lose, Flick’s team won’t be able to catch up with Hungary, and if England get at least one draw against Italy, then England vs Germany on Monday would suddenly become a duel against Italy. relegation.

For Hungarian players Péter Gulácsi, Willi Orban and Dominik Szoboszlai, the game in Leipzig will be special. All three play for Bundesliga side Leipzig.

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

Hungary held Germany to a 1-1 draw in Budapest in June when Timo Werner and David Raum had several chances saved by Gulácsi.

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

“Germany are the strongest team we have come across,” said Hungarian coach Marco Rossi. “We will do everything we can to make their job as difficult as possible so that our fans can be proud of us again.”

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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