FRANKFURT, Germany (AP)England manager Gareth Southgate is weighing up how much access players will have with their families at the World Cup amid his fears that COVID-19 could derail the team’s chances of success in Qatar.

Southgate says he is also concerned about the number of players that will be available to him by the time the tournament kicks off next month due to the intense physical demands of having a midseason World Cup.

He is currently in discussions with his squad over how to approach family access and limit the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak.

All teams will follow strict medical protocols to try to reduce the spread of coronavirus at the Nov. 20-Dec. 18 tournament. England was impacted by COVID-19 at the delayed European Championship in 2021 when Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell were forced to isolate as a result of coming into contact with Scotland midfielder Billy Gilmour.

Southgate is determined to avoid a repeat.

”Obviously it’s quite fluid in terms of where we will be in terms of rates of infection and what that will look like. We would have a preference that families can engage, because that’s better for everybody,” Southgate said at the draw for Euro 2024 in Frankfurt on Sunday. ”But there is that decision around how much risk do you want to take, because if you lose a player or two players, for them that may be their only opportunity to play at the World Cup, and I’m sure their families will realize that as well.

”It is a decision that we’re talking with the senior players about, and they’re realizing how complicated that is.”

Another concern for Southgate is the physical condition of his players, who face an intense schedule with their club teams before the tournament.

Kyle Walker underwent groin surgery this week and is a major doubt.

Southgate believes key players could drop out between now and Qatar.

”It’s not something we can control. I’ve said all along that I’ve never bought the theory that it’s better for us to be playing in the middle of the season than at the end, because we haven’t had a problem with playing at the end. So I always felt that was a bit of a myth,” Southgate said.

”What I see is a really packed schedule now, a lot of players playing a lot of minutes, and realistically we will lose more. I just think it’s so intense and the players have had so much football.”

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