UEFA insists ‘no Plan B’ for Champions League amid Lisbon virus concerns

Aleksander Ceferin
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Updated 01 July 2020

UEFA insists ‘no Plan B’ for Champions League amid Lisbon virus concerns

  • Ceferin has admitted that it is unlikely any of the matches will be played in front of crowds

LAUSANNE: UEFA insists there is “no reason to prepare a Plan B” for the final eight of the Champions League in Lisbon despite Portuguese authorities reintroducing restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“We hope everything will be fine and that it will be possible to organize the tournament in Portugal. For the moment there is no reason to prepare a Plan B,” a UEFA spokesperson told AFP.

The spokesperson added that European football's governing body is in “constant contact with the Portuguese Football Federation and the local authorities.” 

UEFA announced earlier this month that the latter stages of the Champions League would be staged exceptionally as a straight knockout competition from the quarterfinals onwards with all matches in Lisbon.

Earlier this month, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said: “For now things look well, and we hope everything will be fine until we organize the final eight.”

He added: “We are assessing the situation, not week by week but day by day, and we will adapt when the time comes, if necessary.”

Portugal had not suffered to the same extent as other western European countries during the pandemic but last week Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced that some coronavirus restrictions would be reimposed in and around the capital to help control fresh outbreaks.

From Wednesday, 19 neighborhoods on the northern edges of Lisbon will go back into lockdown.

Gatherings will be limited to a maximum of five people in these areas, compared to 10 people in the wider Lisbon area and 20 people across the rest of Portugal.

The final eight is due to begin with the first quarterfinal on Aug. 12, with the final scheduled for Aug.  23.

Matches will be played at Benfica's Estadio da Luz and the nearby Estadio Jose Alvalade, home of Sporting.

Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Atalanta all qualified for the quarterfinals before the competition was suspended in March.

The remaining last 16, second legs are: Juventus vs. Lyon; Manchester City vs. Real Madrid; Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea and Barcelona vs. Napoli.

It is hoped those matches — set for Aug. 7 and 8 — will not need to be played on neutral ground but they could also be moved to Portugal, with UEFA standing by to spread the matches around the country, in Lisbon as well as in the northern cities of Porto and Guimaraes.

Ceferin has admitted that it is unlikely any of the matches will be played in front of crowds but said UEFA would reassess the situation in July.


Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

Updated 9 min 30 sec ago

Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

  • Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment

SPIELBERG, South Africa: Max Verstappen will seek a hat trick of home wins for Red Bull and an early lead in the drivers championship at this weekend’s delayed and somewhat surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

For everyone involved, the race will be an unprecedented experience — the calendar is unknown beyond the first eight races in Europe in 10 weeks, all to be run behind closed doors and severe limitations introduced with a new paddock protocol forbidding meetings.

As racing returns, the COVID-19 virus remains in circulation, which requires all participants to be tested before travel to Austria on private chartered jets, ongoing tests, the separation of teams and car crews into “bubbles” and controlled hotels.

Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment, there will be no sponsors, no guests and only a limited number of accredited broadcast and written news media.

Journalists, limited to a dozen instead of 300 or more, have to pass a test within 72 hours in advance of arrival and will not be allowed to leave the media center.

All interviews and news conferences will take place by video.

The teams will be kept isolated, based in tents with awnings instead of their usual grand motorhomes — and there is expected to be a synchronized taking the knee by the drivers on the grid, to support Black Lives Matter, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Afterwards, there will be no podium ceremony.

When the race begins, it will end the longest gap between races in the sport since 1962, but with two successive races in Austria and then one in Hungary, the pressure will be immediate and intense.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “There’s been a long drought. We all do this because we love it. We’ve missed it, so we can’t wait to start.”

“It’s going to be exciting and intense. The races come thick and fast.”

Dutch driver Verstappen, who bullied his way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to triumph in front of a mass of his “orange army” of fans last year, says he is unfazed by high expectations or the absence of spectators at the Red Bull Ring, a remote and compact circuit in the Styrian Alps.

“I am not thinking about a hat trick,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to have a competitive car and to perform at my best.

“I never consider myself as a favorite because, actually, when you look at the track, it’s not even our best one, but last year it was very warm and we were good at keeping the engine cool.

“So I don’t expect an easy win. I think Mercedes will be very strong again and they are the ones to beat.”

Verstappen, who has kept a low profile during the lockdown, delivered three wins and eight podiums last year as Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth title with Mercedes, who this year seek an unprecedented seventh constructors’ and drivers’ double in succession.

Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon will have an upgraded Honda engine package, developed since the coronavirus lockdown ended, to boost them at the contest in the Styrian Alps where the 800-meter altitude can affect engine performance.

Mercedes will also have an updated package while Ferrari, struggling to match them in pre-season testing, announced Tuesday that they are updating their cars for the third race in Hungary.

Hamilton this year bids for a record-equalling seventh drivers title as he campaigns passionately for greater diversity, and against racism, in the sport.

“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that F1 and all of us have experienced,” he said in a video from the team, which — at his prompting — is running black livery this year to support equality and diversity.