England coach Gareth Southgate could leave out several players from his World Cup squad due to their refusal to take the Covid vaccine.
Sportsmail has learned that a handful of players who would expect to make Southgate’s 26-man party for the tournament in Qatar have yet to be vaccinated, which under current regulations means they will have to isolate for five days following their arrival in the country in November.
England’s first World Cup fixture is on the tournament’s opening day, November 21, just six days after their scheduled arrival in Qatar, so any player forced to self-isolate will realistically have to sit it out as they will have barely trained with their team-mates.
Southgate is therefore contemplating an unpalatable choice between leaving some vaccine refuseniks out of his squad entirely, as Chelsea and Crystal Palace have done on their pre-season tours, or going into England’s opener with reduced numbers.
The issue of vaccine refusal is also affecting other World Cup sides, such as France, with N’Golo Kante one of several international stars who have yet to be vaccinated, but England’s problem is more acute as they have been given an opening-day game.
FIFA are understood to be lobbying Qatar to relax its Covid vaccine rules ahead of the tournament.
England boss Gareth Southgate could be forced to axe unvaccinated stars from his World Cup squad later on this year
There are a number of players expected to be in his group for Qatar who have yet to receive the Covid jab
The issue of player vaccination has been a hot topic in the Premier League this summer.
Crystal Palace had to take just 10 senior players on their pre-season tour of Singapore and Australia due to a number of their squad not meeting the entry requirements for these countries when the trip was scheduled.
Manager Patrick Vieira had to do without a number of high-profile players including Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze, Marc Guehi and Michael Olise.
Travellers are currently not allowed into Singapore if they are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19, while this was also the case in Australia until July 6, although they have since eased their rules on proof of vaccinations.
The club have not confirmed whether the players not making the trip are missing out due to their coronavirus vaccination status. They have instead stated that the absent players either don’t meet the entry requirements or are ‘not currently fit’.
The Premier League revealed back in late January that 80 per cent of top-flight players in England are fully vaccinated, but they have not provided an update since then.
Any ‘refusenik’ will be forced to isolate for five days on arrival in Qatar – meaning they could be at risk of missing the opening game