UEFA Proposes Postponing Euro 2020 To 2021 Due To Coronavirus

A board displays the groups and Spanish football player Iker Casillas (R) during the UEFA Euro 2020 football competition final draw in Bucharest on November 30, 2019. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

UEFA has proposed postponing this year’s European Championship until 2021, a source close to European football’s governing body told AFP on Tuesday, as the continent battles with the coronavirus pandemic.

The source’s confirmation of the proposal came after the Norwegian FA tweeted that the new plan is for the tournament to take place from June 11 to July 11 next year, turning Euro 2020 into Euro 2021.

The proposal was made as UEFA held crisis talks with its national associations as well as clubs and players bodies via videoconference on Tuesday. The proposal is likely to be ratified at a UEFA Executive Committee meeting in the afternoon.

The move comes with most of Europe’s domestic leagues having ground to a halt over the last week as football confronts its biggest issue in modern times.

The UEFA Champions League and Europa League competitions for clubs have also been suspended, with both still in the last-16 stage, but postponing the European Championship for national sides means they, along with national leagues, will have the chance to be completed, assuming travel restrictions are lifted in time.

Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, with France on Tuesday having joined Italy and Spain in applying strict lockdown measures and European leaders also planning to ban all non-essential travel into the continent.

More than 2,100 people have died in Italy, which was supposed to host the opening game of Euro 2020 in Rome. The head of the Italian football federation, Gabriele Gravina, had already led calls for the Euros to be postponed.

Euro 2020 was due to be held in 12 different cities across the continent, from as far apart as Dublin and Bilbao, to Saint Petersburg and Baku.

The semi-finals and final were due to be played in London and there would considerable knock-on effects to postponing the competition — the women’s European Championship is scheduled to run from July 7 to August 1 next year in England, with the final at Wembley.

UEFA have also planned to stage an Under-21 Euros in Hungary and Slovenia in June next year.

Twenty of the 24 teams set to take part in the Euro have already qualified, but play-offs to determine the final four participants, due to be played later this month, will have to take place at a later date.

– Collision course with FIFA? –

Moving the Euro by a year also puts UEFA on a collision course with football’s world governing body FIFA, whose president Gianni Infantino has planned to stage the inaugural edition of his highly lucrative Club World Cup in June and July next year in China. Some of Europe’s top club sides are expected to be involved.

“FIFA will keep in regular contact with all relevant stakeholders during this difficult period and look to find in due course solutions in a spirit of cooperation, taking into account the interests of football at all levels,” Infantino wrote in an open letter on Monday.

“Health first and sporting solidarity should be the key principles guiding decision-making at this important moment in time and I am sure that the whole football community will live up to the great values of our sport.”

– ‘Final Four’ proposal –

As for its flagship club competitions, UEFA may come to a decision to try to complete the Champions League and Europa League by curtailing the competitions, meaning ties up to the semi-finals could be decided in one-off matches.

Reports on Tuesday also indicated both tournaments could conclude with a ‘Final Four’ meeting in the scheduled host cities — Istanbul for the Champions League and Gdansk in Poland for the Europa League, meaning the two-legged semi-finals would be removed.

Financially, UEFA will undoubtedly prefer postponements to outright cancellations, or playing matches behind closed doors, even if it is impossible at this stage to know when club football can resume.

The last European Championship, held in France in 2016, generated total revenue of close to two billion euros ($2.2 billion) for UEFA.

“The financial stakes are enormous,” according to one senior figure in the international game. “We know that FIFA has significant reserves but we don’t know about UEFA or the different leagues.”

AFP

Liverpool Vs Atletico Madrid: It Doesn’t Feel Right Losing – Klopp Admits

File: Atletico Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente (R) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions league Round of 16 second leg football match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on March 11, 2020.
Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Liverpool coach, Jurgen Klopp, has admitted it does not feel right losing to Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. 

The Reds were on Wednesday dumped out of Europe’s elite football competition after losing 2-3 (2-4 on aggregate) to the Spanish side.

Klopp’s side had lost the first leg of the clash 1-0 but the holders looked to have ended Atletico’s dogged resistance when Roberto Firmino put them ahead in the tie after Georginio Wijnaldum’s first-half header forced the game into an extra 30 minutes.

Marcos Llorente, however, made Liverpool pay for a host of missed chances as he netted twice before an Alvaro Morata strike, in added time, sealed a place for Diego Simeone’s men in the quarter-final.

While speaking in the post-match press conference, Klopp congratulated the Spanish side even though he said it does not feel right losing to them.

READ ALSO: PSG Overturn Dortmund Deficit, Advance To Champions League Quarter-Finals

According to the former Borussia Dortmund boss, he is an “under-average loser,” stressing that talking more about the game would make him feel like the “worst loser in the world.”

“At least tonight, if I would say all the things I have in my mind I would look like the worst loser in the world, so I best stop here,” the German was quoted in Liverpool’s website as saying after the game.

He, however, praised his players for their “exceptional” showing at the Anfield and admitted that playing “against a defensive set-up like that, to cause a team that many problems is really exceptional, so I loved that.”

Klopp added that at some point in the game, his players were a bit tired unlike their opponents who looked fresher.

Llorente Double Stuns Liverpool To Take Atletico Into Quarter-Final

Atletico Madrid’s Spanish midfielder Marcos Llorente (R) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Champions league Round of 16 second leg football match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid at Anfield in Liverpool, north west England on March 11, 2020. Paul ELLIS / AFP

 

Atletico Madrid ended Liverpool’s defence of the Champions League on Wednesday as Marcos Llorente’s double and Alvaro Morata’s late strike stunned Anfield with a 3-2 win after extra time to progress 4-2 on aggregate.

The holders looked to have ended Atletico’s dogged resistence when Roberto Firmino put them ahead in the tie after Georginio Wijnaldum’s first-half header forced the game into an extra 30 minutes.

However, Liverpool were made to rue a host of missed chances to kill the tie off in 90 minutes as Llorente twice curled home from outside the box before Morata twisted the knife by breaking away to score in added time of extra time.

Defeat ends Jurgen Klopp’s proud record of never losing a two-legged European tie as Liverpool manager.

However, it remains to be seen if and when the last eight will even be able to take place due to the chaos caused across the continent by the new coronavirus.

A packed Anfield played its part in trying to roar Liverpool onto another famous Champions League conquest as, unlike in numerous countries across Europe, no restrictions have so far been put on supporters attending games in the United Kingdom.

But it was the nearly 3,000 travelling fans in attendance, despite the fact games in Spain will be played behind closed doors for the next two weeks, that celebrated a stoic rearguard display from their side.

The European champions did not manage a single shot on target in a 1-0 defeat in Madrid three weeks ago, but Jan Oblak was quickly put to work.

Wijnaldum’s flicked header offered a warning for Atletico of what was to come before Oblak parried Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s driven effort.

Just as the Spaniards thought the job was half done with no damage done, Wijnaldum’s powerful downward header left Oblak with no chance two minutes before the break.

 Oblak keeps Liverpool at bay 

The goal did not change Atletico’s approach as they played a risky game and relied on Oblak to keep them in the game.

The Slovenian saved from Mohamed Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Firmino as Liverpool missed a number of chances that ultimately came back to cost them.

Andy Robertson came closest to the knockout blow with a close-range header that came back off the bar before he, Mane and Salah all fired over.

Atletico thought they had stolen the tie with the last touch of the 90 minutes when Saul Niguez headed home a free-kick, but the Spanish international was flagged offside to send the tie to an extra 30 minutes.

Despite Liverpool being on the brink of a first Premier League title in 30 years, their number nine Firmino had not scored at home all season until four minutes into extra-time.

The Brazilian’s header from Wijnaldum’s cross came back off the post and perfectly back into his path to slot home with Oblak grounded.

However, no sooner had Liverpool gone in front for the first time in the tie than Atletico hit back with a sucker-punch.

The visitors had barely tested stand-in Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian, but the loss of Alisson Becker to a hip injury eventually proved Liverpool’s downfall.

Adrian fired a simple clearance straight to Joao Felix, who fed Llorente and he found the bottom corner.

Llorente had joined Atletico from bitter rivals Real Madrid in a controversial move in June.

But the man whose father and great uncle, Francisco Gento, also played for Real, made himself a Rojiblanco hero with a second that secured Atletico’s place in the last eight with another precise low finish in added time at the end of the first half of extra time.

Another former Real player Morata then sealed a famous win as Liverpool were caught on the counter-attack to lose at home in the Champions League for the first time since October 2014.

Liverpool Vs Atletico Madrid Preview: Team News, Possible Lineups, Match Time

Liverpool vs atletico madrid champions league preview
File Photo: Atletico Madrid’s Ghanaian midfielder Thomas Partey (R) vies with Liverpool’s English midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain during the UEFA Champions League, round of 16, first leg football match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Liverpool FC at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020. JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

 

Liverpool will be up against Atletico Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

A goal in the fourth minute boosted the chances of Diego Simeone’s men, who won 1-0, in the first leg of the encounter, at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on February 18, 2020.

Although Liverpool are highly-fancied to overturn the deficit when they welcome the Spanish side, the Reds coach, Jurgen Klopp, admitted that it would not be an easy task.

Defensively Compact Atletico 

Speaking in a pre-match press conference ahead of the showdown at the Anfied, the German gaffer said Simeone’s men are a defensively compact side.

“Atletico defends you for the next six months without a rest,” the former Dortmund coach admitted.

Klopp, however, said his men would find a way to break the resilient Atleti side, adding that they will play a free-flowing football on Wednesday night.

He said his side needs to be “nearly perfect” to come out with a result against Atletico Madrid.

A History Of Comebacks

For Simeone, a one-goal advantage is not enough for his team going into the second leg tie, admitting that Liverpool have a history of comebacks.

In 2005, the Merseyside came from 3-0 goals down against AC Milan to lift the Champions League trophy.

Last season, they overturned a 3-0 first leg deficit against Barcelona, to reach the final of the Champions League.

And the Argentine coach agrees that a team with such history of “great comebacks”  have lots of ways to hurt their opponents.

“They have had some historic results here [Anfield], turning matches around, great comebacks,” Simeone said in a pre-match press conference as quoted on the Liverpool website.

Liverpool Vs Atletico Madrid Team News

The English Premier League leaders have some cheering news ahead of the encounter with Atletico.

Club skipper, Jordan Henderson, is fit for the game after he got a hamstring injury in the reverse fixture in Spain.

Also, Andy Robertson, is available for selection after he missed out in the team’s victory over Bournemouth on Saturday in the domestic league.

But the 2004/2005 Champions League winners will play without Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker for the tie.

For Atletico, some of their players will be free for selection for the visit to the Anfied.

Hector Herrera, Kieran Trippier, Thomas Lemar, and Joao Felix who all missed out on the first leg of the fixture are back in the team.

Alvaro Morata is still a major doubt for the match but his fitness would be assessed ahead of the encounter.

Liverpool Vs Atletico Madrid Possible Lineup

Liverpool: Adrián; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané

Altetico Madrid: Oblak; Trippier, Savić, Felipe, Renan Lodi; Saúl Ñíguez, Partey, Koke, Vitolo; João Félix, Correa

Liverpool Vs Atletico Champions League Fixture Time

The Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid second leg Round of 16 Champions League encounter will start from 09:00 pm (WAT/Nigeria time).

Mbappe Tests Negative For Coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: France’s forward Kylian Mbappe arrives for a training session in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines, southwest of Paris on October 7, 2019 ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying football match between Iceland and France. PHOTO: Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

 

Kylian Mbappe tested negative for coronavirus and has resumed training with Paris Saint-Germain, the club said on Wednesday, just hours before their Champions League match with Dortmund.

The France striker is suffering from a sore throat, the club said. He had missed two training sessions with a fever but is likely to be in the squad for the round-of-16 second leg.

The match will be played behind closed doors at the Parc des Princes.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: Arsenal Vs Manchester City Game Postponed

“We have to wait and decide,” Paris coach Thomas Tuchel had told PSG TV on Tuesday.

PSG trail Borussia Dortmund 2-1.

The club also said on Wednesday that central defender Thiago Silva has not recovered from injury and will miss the game.

AFP

Champions League: Four-Goal Ilicic Guides Atalanta Into Quarter-Final

Josip Atalanta’s Slovenian midfielder Josip Ilicic celebrates after scoring during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Valencia CF and Atalanta at Estadio Mestalla on March 10, 2020 in Valencia. POOL UEFA / AFP

 

Atalanta’s fairytale Champions League run continued inside an empty stadium on Tuesday as Josip Ilicic scored four times in a 4-3 win over Valencia that sent his team into the quarter-finals 8-4 on aggregate.

A frantic contest inside an echoing Mestalla stadium was the first of several in the competition to be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus, with 55,000 vacant seats creating a surreal atmosphere that was never likely to deliver a momentous Valencia comeback.

They had been tasked with overturning a 4-1 defeat from the opening game in Italy and any hopes were all-but dashed inside 90 seconds when Mouctar Diakhaby conceded the first of two penalties, each converted by Ilicic.

In between, Kevin Gameiro had levelled for Valencia and then scored again shortly after half-time before Ferran Torres lobbed in to leave the hosts needing three in just over 20 minutes.

Yet any chance of a revival was quickly snuffed out as Ilicic completed his hat-trick and added a fourth to ensure Atalanta ended a strange evening with their names in the draw on March 20.

The Slovenia international also became the first player to score four times away from home in a Champions League knockout match.

Atalanta’s progress remains the greatest surprise of this year’s tournament, in which they lost all three of their opening group games and are featuring for the first time in the club’s 113-year history.

“After a difficult start to this competition, we got the hang of it,” said coach Gian Piero Gasperini afterwards.

All the more the shame then that their advance on the back of two brilliant victories over Valencia was overshadowed by the sight of a Champions League knock-out tie being played with only a handful of stadium staff in the stands.

 Strange atmosphere 

The shouts of the players were audible throughout while in the first half Valencia seemingly projected crowd noise through a sound system, although it was later turned off when hopes of a comeback had disappeared.

Valencia’s supporters had gathered outside the stadium before kick-off to welcome the team bus but none were allowed inside. Atalanta are based in Bergamo in northern Italy, one of the worst-hit regions in a country that has had 631 people killed by the virus so far.

After the final whistle, the players held up a shirt to a television camera that had the message, “Bergamo, this is for you!” written across the front.

“We are very happy with how we have represented a region that suffers so much,” said Gasperini.

Spain announced on Monday that all schools in the Madrid area will close on Wednesday while La Liga had confirmed earlier on Tuesday that all matches in the top two divisions will be played behind closed doors for two weeks at least.

The sense of deflation at not having any fans on hand was impossible to ignore because before even two minutes were up, Valencia were behind.

Diakhaby slid in to block Ilicic’s dummy-shot and scythed down the striker as he turned back. Ilicic drove the penalty down the middle for his 18th goal of the season.

Valencia equalised after Atalanta conceded possession cheaply in midfield and Rodrigo slid in Gameiro to finish, but Ilicic converted a second penalty before half-time, after Diakhaby feathered the ball with his hand.

Gameiro made it 2-2 by heading in Torres’ cross and then Torres found the net himself, lifting the ball over Marco Sportiello to give Valencia some hope with 23 minutes left.

But four minutes later, Ilicic completed his treble with a driven shot into the corner and with progress secured, he grabbed the win too when the ball spilled out to him at the back post and he guided it into the top corner.

AFP

Alli Blames Mental Weakness For Tottenham Collapse

Tottenham’s English midfielder Dele Alli listens during a press conference on the eve of the UEFA Champions League football match between Leipzig and Tottenham, in Leipzig, eastern Germany on March 9, 2020. Ronny Hartmann / AFP

 

Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli questioned the mentality of his side after crumbling to a 3-0 Champions League last 16, second leg defeat to Leipzig on Tuesday to bow out of the competition 4-0 on aggregate.

Marcel Sabitzer profited from two errors by Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in the first 21 minutes to give Leipzig a commanding lead before substitute Emil Forsberg added the third late on.

Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho was repeatedly used the absence of key injured players such as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min for a run of six games without a win in all competitions.

But Alli insisted that is not a good enough excuse for the manner in which last season’s Champions League finalists exited the competition with a whimper.

“We were missing some good players, but that’s football, that happens. This is Tottenham, the players that come in have to step up and we haven’t done that today,” Alli told BT Sport.

“I think we have to apologise to the fans. They travelled all this way and to go out and lose like that, they deserve better.”

Alli refused to point the finger at Lloris, but claimed Spurs were not mentally strong enough to produce the same sort of fightback as they did from 3-0 down on aggregate against Ajax in last season’s semi-finals.

“We were second to a lot of balls, to concede them goals shows our mentality wasn’t strong enough,” added Alli.

“We have to stay together and not talk about anyone in particular.

“It’s not down to one player to score goals, to stop goals, the whole team performance and the mentality wasn’t strong enough.”

Tottenham now have just nine games left this season in the Premier League to try and avoid missing out on the Champions League for the first time in five seasons.

Mourinho’s men lie eighth in the table, seven points off the top four, and badly need to end their barren run at home to Manchester United on Sunday.

“I think probably it is (a) good (thing),” said Mourinho of his side’s exit from Europe. “Sometimes difficult moments are moments that can prepare the future in a better way.”

On top of losing Kane and Son, Mourinho pointed to the absence of Steven Bergwijn, Moussa Sissoko and Davinson Sanchez for his side’s capitulation in Germany.

“People can say excuses but I’m pretty sure it is bad for anyone.

“I don’t think anyone would resist to such a situation. In this moment we have matches to play in the Premier League with these players, there are not others, and we go until our limits. Let’s see how we end the season.”

AFP

Leipzig Cruise Past Tottenham Into Champions League Quarter-Final

leipzig players celebrate after the UEFA Champions League football match between RB Leipzig and Tottenham Hotspur, in Leipzig, eastern Germany on March 10, 2020. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Tottenham crashed out of the Champions League as RB Leipzig cruised to a 3-0 win on Tuesday to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time 4-0 on aggregate.

Leipzig captain Marcel Sabitzer struck twice in the first 21 minutes to put the tie to bed before substitute Emil Forsberg added the third late on with his first touch.

Unlike many fixtures across Europe this week, there were no restrictions on supporters attending due to the spread of coronavirus and the Leipzig fans were able to enjoy a nerve-free evening.

Spurs travelled to eastern Germany shorn of striking options without the injured Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn.

However, it was at the other end that they buckled inside the opening quarter of the game as two errors from Hugo Lloris in goal turned a tough task into an impossible one.

Mourinho left club record signing Tanguy Ndombele on the bench after publicly criticising the French midfielder’s desire in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Burnley, but the switch to a 3-4-3 formation did little to prevent Spurs’ winless streak in all competitions stretching to six games.

Leipzig took just 10 minutes to open the scoring when Lloris did not get a strong enough right hand to stop Sabitzer’s strike from outside the box finding the bottom corner.

Timo Werner then fired home from close range only to be denied by the offside flag as Leipzig opened up the Tottenham defence at will.

And the visitors did not learn their lesson as Serge Aurier was caught napping by a purposeful burst from Angelino.

The Manchester City loanee’s cross was met by a powerful header by Sabitzer, but Lloris should still have done better to keep the ball out at his near post.

Lloris did make some measure of amends by saving from Werner and Patrik Schick to keep the score down before half-time, while at the other end Peter Gulasci was finally forced into action by Erik Lamela.

Spurs produced a remarkable fightback from 3-0 down on aggregate away at Ajax in last season’s semi-finals to make the final for the first time in the club’s history thanks to Lucas Moura’s hat-trick.

But in keeping with their collapse since that night in Amsterdam last May, Mourinho’s men lacked the quality and belief needed to reproduce that thrilling fightback.

Moura was again the one source of inspiration as he teed up Dele Alli for Spurs’ best chance of the night, but the England midfielder’s mishit effort was easily saved by Gulasci.

Forsberg was more clinical just 32 seconds after replacing Sabitzer to fire into the far corner three minutes from time.

Tottenham’s season now hinges on refinding their form in the Premier League if they are not to miss out on the Champions League for the first time in five years.

Spurs are languishing in eighth in the Premier League, seven points adrift of the top four, and in desperate need for Mourinho to exact revenge on Manchester United for his sacking last season when the Red Devils visit north London on Sunday.

AFP

Champions League: Bayern To Face Chelsea Without Fans Due To Coronavirus

 

Bayern Munich confirmed on Tuesday that next week’s Champions League game against Chelsea would go ahead without fans over fears of the spread of the coronavirus.

The German club’s decision follows a ban by the regional Bavarian government on any gathering of more than 1,000 people until April 19.

Bayern hold a 3-0 lead over Chelsea going into the last-16 second-leg tie on March 18.

“FC Bayern is … implementing the decree of the Bavarian state government, which was issued to protect the population. The aim is to minimise the risk of coronavirus infection,” the club said in a statement.

“Only persons contracted to work for the operation of the match are permitted to attend. TV coverage is guaranteed,” it added.

Four of the eight second-leg ties in the last 16 will be held behind closed doors. No decision has been made on next week’s game between Juventus and Lyon in Turin.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday announced the suspension until April 3 of all sporting events in the country.

Germany’s international friendly against Italy in Nuremberg — the second largest city in Bavaria — on March 31 will also be held behind closed doors.

Wednesday’s Rhine derby between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Cologne will become the first game in Bundesliga history to be played without fans.

Local authorities also ordered the Ruhr derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke taking place on Saturday to go ahead without supporters.

AFP

PSG Worried Over Mbappe’s Sickness Ahead Of Dortmund Clash

Paris Saint-Germain’s French forward Kylian Mbappe celebrates after scoring a goal during the French L1 football match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Olympique de Lyon (OL) on October 7, 2018 at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

Paris Saint-Germain are sweating on the fitness of star striker Kylian Mbappe who has picked up a throat infection ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League last-16 return-leg against Dortmund.

The French World Cup star missed team training Monday and Tuesday and was reported to have a sore throat, with his club needing to overturn a 2-1 deficit from their first leg defeat in Germany two weeks ago.

Mbappe has scored six goals in his last three PSG matches.

At Monday’s training session Argentine forward Angel Di Maria was observed passing the ball around with Neymar. Spanish forward Pablo Sarabia is also a likely inclusion should Mbappe miss the game.

PSG lost 2-1 to an Erling Haaland-inspired Dortmund before a crowd of 80,000 in Germany last month, with the return-leg to be played in an empty Parc d-es Prices stadium due to the coronavirus.

AFP

Champions League: Barca To Play Napoli Behind Closed Doors

Barcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi (R) scores a goal against Real Sociedad’s Spanish goalkeeper Alex Remiro during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on March 7, 2020. PHOTO: LLUIS GENE / AFP

 

Barcelona’s Champions League round of 16 return match against Napoli on March 18 has been ordered to be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus outbreak, both clubs announced Tuesday.

“The Champions League match scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, between FC Barcelona and Napoli, will be played at Camp Nou behind closed doors,” the Spanish giants said on Twitter.

Two other Champions League matches — Tuesday’s tie between Valencia and Atalanta in Spain, and Wednesday’s Paris Saint-Germain v Borussia Dortmund match — are scheduled to be played in empty stadiums in efforts to curb the spread of the killer virus.

PSG’s match at the Parc des Princes was forced behind closed doors after the French government announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 1,000 people in a country where 1,412 cases of COVID-19 infections have been recorded and 25 deaths.

The announcement was closely followed by the postponement of the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland scheduled for Saturday in Paris.

Spanish club Valencia’s match against Atalanta was considered high risk and ordered behind closed doors because the Italian side come from Bergamo in the Lombardy region, one of the areas of Italy most affected by the virus.

Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country with 9,172 cases and 463 deaths, on Monday banned all sporting events until April 3, suspending all Serie A football fixtures.

Barcelona said the match would be played without spectators in line with recommendations from the regional Catalan government.

The decision was taken following a meeting between club officials and Catalan medical staff earlier Tuesday.

“The decision was taken on medical grounds,” Catalonia’s health chief Joan Graux said following the meeting.

Napoli, meanwhile, were forced to deny press reports that they had asked for the match to be postponed.

“Napoli abides by decisions taken by the Italian government and UEFA.” the club tweeted, describing the reports as fake news.

AFP

Valencia Plan Champions League Comeback Against  Atalanta In Empty Stadium

(FromL) Valencia’s Portuguese defender Thierry Correia, Valencia’s French midfielder Francis Coquelin, Valencia’s Portuguese midfielder Gongalo Guedes and Valencia’s Spanish midfielder Ferran Torres arrive for a training session at the Paterna Sports City in Paterna on March 09, 2020 on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Group H football match between Valencia and Atalanta which will be played behind closed doors in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
JOSE JORDAN / AFP

 

Valencia will attempt an unlikely comeback without their fans on Tuesday when they play Atalanta in the Champions League behind closed doors due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Retrieving a 4-1 defeat from the first leg in Italy was always going to be a formidable task for Valencia but looks even more so after UEFA instructed their home tie at Mestalla be played in an empty stadium to limit the spread in Spain.

Atalanta are based in Bergamo in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, one of the worst-hit areas in the country. Italy had registered more than 7,000 cases of coronavirus on Monday.

Spain has been less affected so far, with just under 1,000 confirmed cases on Monday and 37 in the Valencian Community, which includes Castellon, Valencia and Alicante.

Valencia announced on February 28 they would be suspending all non-sporting activity with the club’s first-team players after a journalist attending the opening fixture against Atalanta on February 19 was confirmed to have been infected.

READ ALSO: Bergwijn Adds To Tottenham’s Injury Woes

It meant all engagement with the media before and after subsequent matches against Real Betis on February 29 and Alaves on Friday was cancelled, while a tribute to the club’s former player David Villa was also called off.

But the last-16 meeting with Atalanta will be Valencia’s first to be contested behind closed doors and, in theory, puts them at a significant disadvantage in their bid to reach the Champions League’s quarter-finals.

Indignant

Valencia captain Dani Parejo expressed anger last week at what he perceives as inconsistency in the approach of the authorities to football matches.

“I am the first to be concerned about the crisis and that is why I am also first to feel indignant when I see the measures taken are not consistent,” Parejo said.

“I don’t understand how a global crisis can be managed in Spain depending on the region in which you live.”

Parejo added: “If it’s dangerous for people to attend Mestalla, it’s also dangerous at the Parc des Princes, at Anfield, at the Red Bull Arena, at the Etihad [Stadium], at Camp Nou, at the Allianz [Stadium] in Turin and at the Allianz [Arena] in Munich.”

Despite heavy restrictions on travel in and out of northern Italy, Atalanta were able to fly to Spain on Monday morning although media events usually scheduled for the day before a Champions League fixture were cancelled.

Atalanta have played only once since their thumping first-leg victory over Valencia, a 7-2 win on March 1 away at Lecce, who are based in southern Italy. Atalanta fans attending the game underwent medical checks before entering the ground.

Only five Serie A matches were staged on Sunday, with all of the games played in front of empty stands.

Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora has insisted matches should be suspended completely and accused Serie A of being “irresponsible” for allowing some to go ahead.

AFP