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Mexicans players in Nicaragua play through coronavirus outbreak as fear, uncertainty linger

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Taufic Guarch listened in last Saturday as the owner of his current club, Nicaragua's Real Esteli, notified his team that the country's top league would continue to play during the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. The club, however, gave players the option to show up or stay home.

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That night, Guarch -- who starred for Mexico at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2011 -- scored two goals against visiting Real Madriz.

"I see that it's a serious situation because I talk to my family in Mexico," Guarch told ESPN. "You don't hear much over here about coronavirus. They didn't want to stop play so we're trying to be professionals, doing what we love to do most, but with that fear of not knowing what's going to happen."

Nicaragua's Liga Primera is virtually alone among Latin American leagues in playing through the coronavirus pandemic. So far, only two cases have been reported in Nicaragua, a country with a population of more than six million. The celebrations of Guarch's goals echoed throughout an empty stadium since the general public is not allowed to attend games.

"Nobody feels at ease. A lot of players from other teams didn't want to come play here," Guarch said. "We have to honor our contract, but we also have to look after our health. The club president told us that they would understand if we didn't want to play. Whoever made that choice just had to notify the team, no problem. But I like to play and practice, and I want to honor my contract. That's why I'm here."

Liga Primera owners have vowed to honor contracts if a stoppage occurs, Guarch said. If that's the case, the native of Guadalajara would like to return home to be with his family.

"They're taking care of us," he said. "They ask that we keep contact with others to a minimum and we're constantly checked. It's in the hands of league officials.

"As a human being, and not as a player, I would prefer if we stopped playing."

Nicaragua's league includes five Mexican players. One of them, Esteli attacking midfielder Fabrizio Tavano, is constantly checking in overseas in areas where heightened measures are already in place. He has family in Italy -- which has been hit hard by the virus -- and his parents are in New Zealand.

Like his teammate and countryman Guarch, Tavano would prefer that officials halt play but is leaving that decision to those who run the league.

"All we know is that there are only two cases of the virus in Nicaragua, and until we hear otherwise the federation wants to continue playing without fans," Tavano told ESPN. "The decisions to play are made before the matches. We're the only ones in Latin America to still be playing."

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