La Liga faces heated debate as it prepares to resume

Lionel Messi after scoring his side’s opening goal against Eibar . (AP/File)
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Updated 25 May 2020

La Liga faces heated debate as it prepares to resume

  • The last 11 rounds of the season will be played behind closed doors at a time when most of the country can expect scorching heat

MADRID: Spanish media rejoiced on Sunday after the government said La Liga could resume, but restarting in June presents many challenges including summer heat, empty stadiums and health rules.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Saturday that football could return from its coronavirus lockdown during the week of June 8.

After closely observing as Bundesliga players acted as lab rats when their league became the first of the major European competitions to return last weekend, Spain, hard hit by the pandemic, will now take its turn.

La Liga has not yet specified when it will kick off or detailed the health protocols it will adopt, but is expected to do so within the next week, according to the Spanish press.

“La Liga is back,” exclaimed the front page of Spain’s bestselling daily Marca, which adorned its front page with a heart formed by the badges of the 20 Liga clubs. Madrid rival AS and Catalan newspaper Sport used the same headline.

Liga president Javier Tebas has been pushing for the league to resume on June 12, with the Seville derby between Real Betis and Sevilla as the curtain-raiser.

Tebas said on Saturday that he was “very happy” with the announcement, but added “We can’t let our guard down.” 

The last 11 rounds of the season will be played behind closed doors at a time when most of the country can expect scorching heat.

At a meeting with La Liga over the weekend, the Spanish Football Players’ Association (AFE), called for cooling breaks during games when temperatures are between 28 and 32 degrees Celsius (82 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and for training and matches to be postponed when temperatures rise above 32 degrees, which is common in the height of summer in much of Spain.

Temperatures during training in Valencia on Saturday reached 28 degrees.

La Liga has eagerly announced there would be “football every day” of the week, but the AFE has demanded that clubs be allowed a compulsory gap of at least 72 hours between matches and the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) had already started a legal action to prevent that.

RFEF went to court at the start of the season and blocked La Liga, which wanted to maximize broadcast revenues, scheduling games on Monday. 

A final judgment is yet to be handed down.

Tebas estimated at the beginning of April that if La Liga did not resume broadcasting the losses would amount to a billion euros ($1.09 billion), compared with €300 million if it played without spectators.

Between now and the restart, the players, who switched from individual training to small group sessions on 18 May while continuing to observe strict health measures, will have almost three weeks to prepare.

The AFE demanded the players were given at least 15 to 20 days to get match fit.

“We want to return to the competition, but we have to go step by step to get back into shape,” Levante winger and captain Jose Luis Morales told Marca on Saturday. “We won’t have any games to test our fitness, we’ll go straight into the competition.”

The sentiment was echoed by Espanyol central defender Bernardo Espinosa.

“What we’re most concerned about is what can happen physically, injuries,” the Colombian told his club’s website on Friday. “These two months have increased the risk of injury.”

“That’s what my team-mates are worried about the most. We need to regain muscle tone and function and reduce the risk, which has increased, not just because of the time we’ve been out of the game, but also because of the weird times we’ve been going through and the high temperatures.”

Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

Updated 26 October 2020

Rays rally with walkoff stunner to level World Series against Dodgers

ARLINGTON, United States: Brett Phillips’s single scored two runs and the Tampa Bay Rays walked off with a stunning 8-7 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers Saturday that knotted the World Series at two games apiece.
The Rays became the first team in post-season history to homer in four straight innings, but they trailed 7-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With two out and two on, Phillips — who entered the game in the eighth as a pinch runner — was down to his last strike in the ninth when he singled to right center field off Dodgers closing pitcher Kenley Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier scored from second base.
Randy Arozarena racing from first, rounded third after the ball bounced off the glove of Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor.
Arozarena tripped between third and home and looked done for, but Dodgers catcher Will Smith bobbled the throw to the plate and Arozarena was able to scramble forward and throw himself headfirst across the plate in time.
“Golly, what a special moment,” said Phillips, who last got a hit in the Rays’ 58th game of the regular season on September 25.
“I am having a hard time putting my emotions into words,” Phillips said. “Baseball is fun.”
Kiermaier called the ending — which sent the Rays into a frenzy of celebration on Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, “truly incredible.”
Arozarena notched a record-breaking ninth home run of the post-season. Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe and Brandon Lowe also homered for the Rays, who are seeking the first World Series title in franchise history.
The Dodgers, back in the World Series for a third time in four years after disappointments in 2017 and 2018, are seeking their seventh title — but a first since 1988.
“This is certainly a tough one,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “They were the best team all year in the American League.
“They are not going to give anything away. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for tomorrow.”
The spectacular ending, capped a tense back-and-forth battle with a World Series record eight straight half-innings with a run scored.
Justin Turner and Corey Seager homered for the Dodgers. Seager’s was his eighth of the playoffs, temporarily tying the single post-season record until Arozarena notched his ninth in the fourth frame.
For the second game in a row Turner got things rolling with a solo homer in the first inning.
Seager added a solo shot in the top of the third that put the Dodgers up 2-0, but Arozarena pulled back a run in the bottom of the fourth with a lead-off blast to right centerfield off a 95 mph fastball from Julio Urias.
Los Angeles stretched the lead to 3-1 in the fifth when Seager singled off Rays relief pitcher Pete Fairbanks and reached second on a wild pitch. With two outs in the inning Max Muncy reached first on a sharp line drive to right field that scored Seager.
The Rays responded with a home run from Renfroe to cut the margin to one run in the bottom of the fifth.
The Dodgers pushed the lead back to two in the top of the sixth when Enrique Hernandez fired a double down the left field line that scored two.
But Lowe — the two-homer hero of the Rays’ game-two victory — put the Rays in front for the first time with a three-run blast off Dodgers reliever Pedro Baez in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Dodgers pinch-hitter Joc Pederson came up with the bases loaded and two out and delivered a two-run single that put Los Angeles back in front.
All seven Dodgers runs came with two outs — continuing a trend for them this series.
The Rays however, wouldn’t be denied, Kiermaier’s homer off Baez knotting the score at 6-6.
“We have no quit,” Kiermaier said. “We have been doing that all year. We’ve been the comeback kids. To do it on the big stage makes it that much sweeter.”