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Zidane isolating, FA Cup hit by COVID-19

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane is self-isolating after a close contact of his tested positive for COVID-19 on yet another day when the pandemic continued to wreak havoc in professional sport.

England’s traditional favourite FA Cup weekend, when the little clubs join the big guns in the third round of the world’s most famous domestic Cup competition, was hit on Thursday with Premier League Southampton’s tie with third-tier Shrewsbury Town called off.

One of the glamour all-Premier League ties of the round, Aston Villa versus Liverpool, also looked in danger after Villa reported a “significant” coronavirus outbreak and closed their training ground on Thursday.

A report in the Spanish newspaper ABC said the French great Zidane learned of the contact testing positive on Thursday morning and subsequently did not attend Real Madrid’s training session ahead of Saturday’s La Liga game at Osasuna.

The report added the 48-year-old had undergone a COVID-19 test and was awaiting the result, although La Liga would have to approve his return to work as its protocols dictate that a person should first isolate for three days and then get a negative test.

Southampton’s tie at St Mary’s Stadium was called off after League One Shrewsbury reported a coronavirus outbreak, saying “several members” of the squad and staff had tested positive.

It was not immediately clear if an already overcrowded schedule will now allow the game to be played at a later date.

The FA asked for more information regarding Shrewsbury’s “ability to fulfil the fixture” and said its Professional Game Board will meet early next week “to make a decision as to what will happen with the fixture.”

Aston Villa cancelled first-team training ahead of Friday’s match against Liverpool. The Birmingham-based club are also scheduled to host Tottenham in a league game next Wednesday.

“Discussions are ongoing between medical representatives of the club, the Football Association and the Premier League,” Aston Villa said in a statement.

The club said “a large number” of players and staff returned positive tests following routine testing on Monday, and they “immediately went into isolation.”

“A second round of testing was carried out immediately and produced more positive results today,” the club said on Thursday.

Elite sports have continued in Britain even as the country faces a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

A third national lockdown that started Tuesday requires everyone in England to stay at home for at least the next six weeks, with limited exceptions.

“I fear football might succumb in the next few weeks,” England great and TV pundit Gary Lineker said on Twitter.

Also, two Women’s Super League games scheduled for Saturday were postponed.

Manchester City women’s match against West Ham was called off after City reported “four positive COVID-19 cases and a number of other mitigating factors”.

Arsenal women said a player had tested positive, resulting in self-isolation for several players and the postponement of the game against Aston Villa.

Three Premier League games were postponed last week following an increased number of positive tests at Manchester City and Fulham.

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