BERGAMO: Ajax’s Serbian forward Dusan Tadic (right) scores a penalty kick past Atalanta’s Italian goalkeeper Marco Sportiello during the UEFA Champions League group D match, between Atalanta and Ajax at the Atleti Azzurri d’Italia stadium. – AFP

THE HAGUE: Ajax will be without four key players including captain Dusan Tadic and goalkeeper Andre Onana in their Champions League clash against Midtjylland after testing positive for coronavirus, news reports said Monday. Two other regular starters, midfielders Davy Klaassen and Ryan Gravenberch, were also omitted from Erik ten Hag’s 17-man squad to face the Danish-based club yesterday. At least seven other players including reserve goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg and attacking midfielder Zakaria Labyad were left off the plane as well.

Ten Hag, at a press conference ahead of the Group D encounter, remained vague about the players and their COVID-19 status, and why they could not travel to play at the MCH Arena in the western Danish city of Herning. “There are a number of players who did not get permission to enter Denmark to play here. They are allowed to play in the Netherlands but not in Denmark,” Ten Hag said at the livestreamed conference.

Pressed for a reason Ten Hag said: “I can’t say anything about the exact reasons and I’m also not going to comment on individuals because of privacy reasons.” “All I know is that they did not get permission to enter Denmark,” he said. Ten Hag then added “it has to do with testing. All I can say is the players affected by this are healthy in the sense that they don’t have any symptoms or complaints.” Denmark enforces stricter anti-coronavirus rules than many other European countries.

It could be that some players who tested positive before still have residual traces of the virus showing up in blood tests, even though they have recovered completely, the RTL Nieuws private broadcaster said. “I find this rather odd,” said Ten Hag. “We are playing in a European competition. But European countries have different rules when it comes to corona,” he said. “That’s strange and it is not fair play either,” added Ten Hag. Dutch news reports say the missing players are now pinning their hopes on a second test, hoping that would come up negative. “I am therefore hopeful that they will still be welcome on Tuesday,” Ten Hag said, adding “we are still working on it”.

Premier League tests

In another development, the Premier League said on Monday that four people have returned positive results in its latest round of COVID-19 tests conducted on players and staff last week. The league said the individuals who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus would now self-isolate for 10 days. “The Premier League can today confirm that between Monday, October 26 and Sunday, November 1, 1,446 players and club staff were tested for COVID-19,” the league said in a statement. “Of these, there were four new positive tests.”

A total of 48 people have tested positive for the virus in nine rounds of testing since the new league campaign began in September. The UK government has allowed Premier League football and other elite sports to continue without spectators during the four-week lockdown from Thursday. There have been more than a million COVID-19 infections and over 46,000 deaths in the UK, according to a Reuters tally. – Agencies