Europe starts kicking

Marawan Elshafei, Tuesday 9 Jun 2020

After more than three months in quarantine, La Liga and the English Premier League will imitate the German experiment and resume their matches, reports Marawan Elshafei

Dortmund’s German midfielder Emre Can scores the 1-0 during the German first division Bundesliga football match against Hertha Berlin (photo: AFP)

Since March when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, all professional and amateur sports put their events on hold until further notice. Some countries took fast action and showed high levels of discipline and commitment which led to their relatively rapid comeback to ordinary life while others suffered a huge toll in deaths and infections.

Spain was hit hard by the virus. By 7 June it had logged 27,135 deaths and 288,390 cases.

However, the Spanish football league, or La Liga, will resume on 11 June, taking a page out of the German Bundesliga, which in May became the first major European league to resume matches.

Organisers have released the schedule of only the first two rounds of fixtures although La Liga Chief Javier Tebas confirmed that there will be matches played every day of the week until the season is completed on 19 July.

La Liga started testing players for the virus in May as part of the protocols in place for training to resume and elite football in Spain to get going again.

Tebas also gave details of a planned tribute to those who have died from the coronavirus. Fans will be encouraged to make audio recordings of themselves applauding the victims which will then be transmitted into stadiums and broadcast on television in the 20th minute of each match.

“Fans make football so special and since they cannot be in the stadiums, we have created this initiative so they can play a part in the return of the competition and show their support for the heroes of Covid-19,” Tebas told the television network Movistar.

Spain’s most decorated club Real Madrid will play their remaining six home games at the 6,000-capacity Estadio Alfredo di Stefano based at their training ground; they are renovating their famed stadium Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid will hold a friendly match at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium to prepare for their first match in La Liga. Reports from Madrid say that the Belgian captain Eden Hazard and Spanish golden boy Marco Asensio are fully recovered and ready to feature in Real Madrid’s first match against Eibar. 

Real Madrid stars have expressed their happiness and excitement to resume their games and their determination to fight for their 34th liga this season.

Barcelona were leading Real by two points, 58-56, after 27 matches when the campaign was halted in March due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. There are 11 matches remaining for every team; 92 remaining fixtures in the 2019-2020 season.

Real Madrid Brazilian midfielder Carlos Henrique Casemiro who was reported by Barca to have agreed to a new contract with Los Blancos which makes him a Madridista till 2023, expressed his delight to be back on the pitch when he posted a picture of Real Madrid’s friendly. “What a feeling to wear this jersey again! More than ever Hala Madrid!” Casemiro wrote. 

On the other hand, FC Barcelona are preparing for their match when they take on RCD Mallorca on 13 June away from home to defend their title as they aim for the 27th liga in their history.

Barcelona’s captain and legend Lionel Messi expressed his enthusiasm and joy to be able to return to the Camp Nou stadium as he posted a picture of himself in training. “I’ve really missed this place... can’t wait to play here again!” Messi wrote.

The Spanish league is the second of Europe’s top five leagues to resume, after the Bundesliga. England’s Premier League is restarting on 17 June and Italy’s Serie A is kicking off again on 20 June.

All the matches in Europe will be played without spectators.

The Spanish season kicks back into action with a local derby between Sevilla and Real Betis on 11 June. There will be fixtures for the following seven days with Barca hosting Leganes on 16 June and Real playing at home against Valencia on 18 June.

The English Premier League (EPL) has reportedly received the green light to resume the 2019-2020 season after the UK government released their post-Covid-19 lockdown plans. 

Aston Villa vs Sheffield United and Manchester City vs Arsenal will be the first games to take place, featuring the four teams that have played one less game than the other 16 clubs, the Premier League announced in a statement on Thursday. A full round of matches is scheduled for the weekend of 19-21 June.

For former Manchester United, Everton and England defender Phil Neville, while he is excited for the return of top-flight football in England, if he were still a player, he would be “nervous”.

“I think the first question you would probably ask is: ‘Why are we going back? Is it going to be safe?’” Neville told CNN Sports on an Instagram live chat.

“We’ve got to adapt to that but ultimately, the player’s safety is paramount for me. If it’s safe for a player and they do the right tests and they’ve got the right procedures in place, then if the government gives the go ahead and the right medical certificates are signed, then I think it’s the right thing,” Neville added.

Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and his Liverpool teammates were back training on 21 May and are now more than ready to continue their fight for the long-awaited triumph. Liverpool are just six points away from being confirmed as the English Premier League winners for the first time in 30 years. 

Liverpool are in first place with 82 points after 29 games. Defending champions Manchester City are second on 57 points with a game in hand. Liverpool have nine matches left.

Liverpool’s matches start with the Merseyside derby on 21 June when they take on Everton away from home.  

Salah availed himself of the mild Liverpool weather as an opportunity to show off and flex his physique, with lockdown evidently not harming his strict workout routine.

This was unlike other players including Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Tottenham Hotspur Harry Kane who gained weight which raised their fans’ concerns about their physical endurance when they restart playing.

The Bundesliga returned on Saturday 16 May, becoming the first major European league to reappear since football was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The games were played under heavy precautions laid out by the German Football Association. A strict hygiene and safety protocol, including the banning of crowds, was necessary to get the go-ahead from the authorities. 

The association issued a lengthy list of the precautions the players, referees and managers should take: It is forbidden to take a group photo of players before the game; No shaking hands or hugs while celebrating goals; Celebrate goals by touching the elbow or the foot of your teammate only; Do not shake hands with players when making any substitutions; No spitting on the field; All people sitting on the bench are required to wear masks, taking into account the spacing between each person. The coach is allowed to uncover his nose and mouth when giving instructions, taking into account the spacing of distances. 

Despite the precautions, some have already fallen foul of the unprecedented rules. There were several highly publicised violations of the German league’s medical policy, leading football journalists around the world to conclude that football matches cannot be fully controlled because at the end football is a game of emotions.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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