All Eyes On Germany As Bundesliga Football Returns
The Bundesliga returns to action on Saturday with the resumption of the first top European league since the coronavirus lockdown watched closely to see if it provides a blueprint for other competitions.
Matches will be played behind closed doors and players and coaches, who have been in quarantine for the past week, must follow stringent hygiene guidelines.
In the highlight of six matches on Saturday, Borussia Dortmund host Schalke 04 in the Ruhr Derby at 1330 GMT, a fixture that would normally attract an 82,000 crowd to Signal Iduna Park.
Professional football returned to western Europe earlier in the day as the second-tier Bundesliga 2 resumed with four matches at 1100 GMT.
South Korean Lee Jae-Sung scored the first league goal in over two months when he gave Holstein Kiel a third-minute lead at Regensburg.
Although Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.
On Sunday, Bayern Munich will resume their quest for an eighth successive Bundesliga title when they play in the capital against Union Berlin.
Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was suspended in March. An exciting Dortmund team featuring Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland and highly-rated English forward Jadon Sancho are in second place.
The German Football League (DFL) made no secret of the fact that several clubs are already in a dire financial situation as a result of the lockdown.
If they are able to complete the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30, clubs could receive around 300 million euros ($324 million) in money from television contracts.
To order to get the political green light to resume, the DFL has put in place the mass testing of players and staff.
The matches themselves will be surrounded by extraordinary measures.
Teams will arrive at stadiums in several buses in order to meet social distancing requirements inside the vehicles.
Once play begins, players have been warned not to shake hands or embrace to celebrate goals, while substitutes and coaches on the bench must wear protective masks.
There are also concerns that fans will try to approach stadiums to support their teams from afar. Police in Dortmund have appealed to fans to stay at home.
Clubs in England, Spain and Italy, where leagues are weeks away from returning to action, will be watching to see how the weekend’s games go.
The Bundesliga is expecting millions of extra fans to watch television coverage worldwide, with particular interest in football-mad Brazil and Mexico.
“The whole world will be looking at Germany, to see how we get it done,” Bayern coach Hansi Flick said.
“If we manage to ensure that the season continues, it will send a signal to all leagues.”
Some have already fallen foul of the rules.
Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich has ruled himself out of Saturday’s match against Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
“I made a mistake,” Herrlich said. “I did not live up to my function as a role model for my team and the public.”
While Herrlich was criticised, there was sympathy for Union Berlin coach Urs Fischer after he broke quarantine following a family bereavement.
It means he must miss his side’s clash with Bayern.
“All our sympathy goes to the Fischer family in this difficult time,” said Union president Dirk Zingler.
Ex-Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou, 34, has been suspended by Hertha Berlin for shaking hands with team-mates.
Bavaria’s state leader Markus Soeder warned that those who fail to follow the regulations should expect consequences.
“If the health experts have given you these suggestions, if the league itself has worked out concepts at great expense, then you have to abide by these rules,” Soeder said Friday.
“And if you don’t follow them, in case there is any doubt, there will be ‘a red card’.”
The coronavirus has claimed over 7,800 lives in Germany and a poll by broadcaster ARD showed 56 percent of the German public are opposed to football’s return.
But Aleksander Ceferin, the president of European football’s governing body UEFA, said the return to action was a “good sign”.
“It’s not just about football. People are depressed because of the lockdown and the uncertainty. Football brings a certain normality and positive energy. It makes it easier to be at home, when you can watch sport,” he told BeinSport.
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