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A J. League YBC Levain Cup match between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Sagan Tosu was canceled on Wednesday just hours before kickoff after Sagan reported that a player and team staffer had tested positive for the new coronavirus, with tests later confirming six more players and three more staffers infected.

The startling development came one day after Sagan announced that manager Kim Myung-hwi had tested positive and admitted to a local hospital.

“With as many as nine infections (today), we decided that it would be difficult to hold today’s Levain Cup match as scheduled,” said J. League Chairman Mitsuru Murai in a joint news conference on Wednesday afternoon.

According to a Sagan news release, the 39-year-old Kim registered a normal temperature on Saturday and participated in the team’s away game against Kashima Antlers despite slight feelings of discomfort.

On Sunday morning, Kim registered a normal temperature and participated in a training session. However he later felt lethargic and measured a fever of 38 degrees Celsius at night. While his temperature returned to normal on Monday morning and he participated in another training session, he remained lethargic and returned a positive PCR test in the afternoon.

Antlers announced on Wednesday that Kashima Stadium had been professionally disinfected as a precaution.

Three Tosu staffers were identified as having had close contact with Kim; they were among 89 players and team officials given PCR tests on Tuesday. While the three close-contact cases were found not to be infected, an unnamed player and staffer registered positive antigen tests on Wednesday.

“We did as much as we could to participate in today’s match and had even confirmed our travel schedule,” Sagan president Minoru Takehara said. “But without being able to assure everyone’s safety… we had to make the decision to cancel.”

Test results of the seven suspected positive cases were later confirmed on Wednesday evening. Saga Prefecture officials described it as a cluster infection — the first to hit the J. League since the start of the pandemic.

During a late-night news conference, Takehara said that Tosu would cease team activities till around Aug. 25 based on guidance from the local health center, with players asked to remain in their homes.

The team is scheduled to play three first-division fixtures — home against Gamba Osaka (Aug. 15), away at Vegalta Sendai (Aug. 19) and home against Consadole Sapporo (Aug. 23) in thatp eriod.

Wednesday’s cup tie was the third J. League game to be postponed as a result of infected players and the second involving Sanfrecce. Their July 26 first-division fixture against Nagoya Grampus was also postponed after two Nagoya players and an additional two staffers were infected and additional contact tracing could not be completed before kickoff.

“I’m very sorry to our fans who were looking forward to this game,” said Sanfrecce chairman Shingo Senda. “Having to cancel a second game on the day of has caused a lot of trouble for (our supporters). We hope that everyone infected at Sagan Tosu recovers quickly.”

Both Sanfrecce and Sagan were eliminated from the Levain Cup following Wednesday night's group stage finales, with neither able to overtake Nagoya as the best among group runners-up even if their game were to be rescheduled.

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