Fresh announcements from UEFA and the Scottish Government have altered the landscape of Rangers ‘ Europa League clash with Royal Antwerp.
The Premiership leaders are set to travel to Belgium for the first leg of the last-32 tie on February 18 before hosting the Flemish side at Ibrox one week later on February 25.
On Tuesday UEFA published a range of guidelines for the next phase of continental competition as they insist the onus lies on the clubs to obtain special permission to take part in the face of new Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Home teams will be required to find neutral venues if restrictions affect their ability to host the game, or the visitors’ ability to travel to or from the host country.
Forfeits are not out of the question for any side unable or unwilling to stage a match and UEFA has reserved the right to pick their own neutral stadium with the option to turn matches into single-legged affairs also on the table.
Arsenal’s tie with Benfica in the same competition is thought to be in danger of being shifted to just one match at a neutral venue as Portugal are not on the UK’s travel corridor list.
Meanwhile in the Champions League Liverpool face issues with the away leg of their clash against RB Leipzig, with flights to Germany from the UK suspended until February 17 – the day after Jurgen Klopp’s side are set to take on the Bundesliga upstarts.
In Rangers’ case, a fresh announcement from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday afternoon means Scotland’s travel restrictions are even tighter than those in place south of the border.
Anyone arriving in Scotland – regardless of existing travel corridors involving the country of origin – is now required to self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days.
It is likely an elite sports exemption will be put in place for the tough new rules imposed by the devolved Government, as was the case for the Celtic team upon their flight home from a Dubai training camp last month.
13 players plus Neil Lennon, assistant John Kennedy and one other unnamed member of staff were forced into self-isolation after Christopher Jullien’s positive test.
But if it wasn’t for an exemption to a late night quarantine order the entire squad and coaching staff would have been affected. Sturgeon herself then warned of the removal of special privileges for sports teams as the debacle unfolded, but has not taken further action against football clubs as a whole.
A deadline of Monday, February 8 has been set for clubs to notify the European governing body if there will be an issue fulfilling a coming fixture in the upcoming knockout rounds of both competitions.
If there are any issues with Rangers’ fixture, they and Antwerp have a deadline of March 5 to complete the tie.