BRUSSELS (Reuters) – There are no concerns in the Belgium camp about a COVID-19 outbreak in the Russia team who they face in St Petersburg on Saturday at the start of their European Championship campaign, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has said.
Midfielder Andrei Mostovoy tested positive for the novel coronavirus and was replaced in the squad by defender Roman Yevgenyev on Friday in a blow to the Russians.
They follow the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden on the list of countries who have been hit by COVID-19 cases before the tournament kicks off later on Friday.
But Belgium’s Courtois shrugged off any potential unease at a news conference on Friday ahead of the Group B clash.
“It is not something that frightens us. It is something that has happened a lot over the last season in many leagues,” he said.
“We are kind of used to that. It is unfortunate for them but I think we are protected and I don’t think we have a problem with that.”
Belgium face Russia some 18 months after handing their hosts a comprehensive 4-1 beating in the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
“When you play against a team that you’ve already played previously, you know them a little better,” added Courtois.
“You know their weak points a little better and that’s always a good thing, although I suppose it could also count against you the other way round. But we know each other well and we are again well prepared for tomorrow.
“The first match, everyone may still play with the handbrake on, so as not to give anything away, especially defensively.
“But I hope we will play well from the kick off tomorrow. We play in Russia. We have already won here and hopefully we do it again and it becomes the start of a good month,” he said.
Belgium coach Robert Martinez has left talisman Kevin de Bruyne behind to continue his recovery from a double facial fracture suffered in the Champions League final.
“With De Bruyne it was a medical choice. He had a positive day on the pitch with the squad,” Martinez said of training on Friday before the squad flew to Russia.
“The next two days will be very important (for midfielder De Bruyne) to get back to level, to move freely, to practice before rejoining the squad. He is very happy. The decision has been made to keep him in Belgium, so that he can get fit there.”
(Writing by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)