BUDAPEST: Hungarian first-division soccer club Ferencvaros, who face Italian side Juventus in the Champions League on Wednesday (Nov 4), may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus as recently as late October, according to a local rival's statement.
Ujpest FC on Wednesday said only two of its 25 players produced negative tests for COVID-19, which has spread rapidly among the squad in the past week and a half.
Ujpest played league leaders and arch rival Ferencvaros on Oct 24.
It was not immediately clear whether Ferencvaros players might have been affected as Ujpest spokeswoman Sandra Galambos declined to speculate on where the infection at her club had arrived from.
She added Ujpest did everything in their power to stop the further spread, including a unilateral cancellation of games.
Asked earlier this week about a potential spread of the virus at the club, Ferencvaros said they complied with all regulations as "protecting lives was the top priority".
Ferencvaros also played a Champions League match against Ukraine's Dinamo Kyiv on Oct. 28. Dinamo said in a Nov 1 statement that six of their players tested positive for COVID.
Dinamo coach Mircea Lucescu told the club's website on Tuesday that he has 13 players available against Barcelona in the group's other game, suggesting that the infection rate in the 25-man roster may have doubled in two days.
Dinamo were not immediately available for comment. Juventus could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ferencvaros told Reuters three players tested positive for coronavirus, all of them quarantined, adding they worked with a UEFA accredited lab.
"We cannot imagine Ferencvaros infected the Ujpest players, as we test once every three days," a spokesperson said. "We experienced no anomaly in the testing procedure at all."
"The coronavirus appeared at the club (Ujpest) in the past month," Galambos said in an email to Reuters. "We isolated the first infections fairly quickly, then in the past two weeks the (disease) spread very rapidly."
Ujpest already faced difficulty in the last round of league fixtures as only seven players tested negative for COVID-19, filling the squad with youngsters to avoid sanctions by the league, which does not allow cancelling games due to infections.
By Tuesday, 23 of 25 Ujpest players tested positive, as did several youth players.
"Ujpest FC is committed to the league's continued operation and no cancelled games, but this is an extreme situation," the club said. "We wish this upon nobody. Considering the pace with which the virus spread in the team in the past week and a half... we will not play our (next) game on Friday."
Ferencvaros and Juventus kick off at 2000 GMT in a rematch of the 1965 Inter-Cities Cup final, in which Ferencvaros defeated the Italians for its only major European title.