In a heartfelt message, Australian football team star Sam Kerr on Wednesday empathised with the Indian players after a COVID-19 outbreak led to the country's ouster from the ongoing women's Asian Cup here, urging them to "use this as fuel" to come back stronger.

Host India was forced out of the tournament on Sunday after a dozen COVID-19 cases among its players led to the cancellation of a group match against Chinese Taipei minutes before kickoff, leaving the players of the home team shattered.

"Hi girls, this is Sam Kerr from the Australian national team. Just wanted to send you guys a message and say how sorry I am for the situation you guys are in right now. I am so disappointed for you guys, I know you had been working so hard for this tournament. Use this as fuel, come back stronger," Kerr said in a video which the All India Football Federation (AIFF) posted on Twitter.


"I was looking forward to hopefully playing you guys but it wasn't to be, hopefully in the future we'll meet. Good luck in your future endeavours and hopefully one day we'll see you back in this tournament," the ace striker added in the video.

One of the world's biggest names in women's football, Australian captain Kerr was beaten to the FIFA Best Women's Player of the Year (2021) award by Barcelona's Alexia Putellas.

On Wednesday, Indian team coach Thomas Dennerby squarely blamed the Asian Football Federation (AFC) for the COVID-19 outbreak that led to the country's exit from the continental showpiece, alleging that his players were infected by the hotel staff in a bio-bubble that was not "foolproof".

In a scathing attack on the continental body, Dennerby said India's dream of taking a shot at the FIFA World Cup was shattered not because of any fault of the players but due to the weak bio-bubble created by the AFC.

He said the AFC did not show any "respect, compassion, empathy" to the team to deal with the "extraordinary" situation in such a high-stake tournament.

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"We were all negative of COVID when we reached team hotel and after arrival tests. The first positive case came on the day we went out of hotel for training and a day later (January 17), seven hotel staff tested positive. It is not rocket science to know how the outbreak came," he told PTI after a virtual media interaction.

"The tests of hotel staff were done on January 17 and results of seven positive cases known on Jan 18. But the information was given only on Jan 19 afternoon. What was AFC doing for whole one day, we don't know.

"The hotel staff was tested for every six days and not every three days as done in case of teams, we don't know why," an angry Dennerby alleged.