Portugal ready for Champions League after subduing virus

Short Url
Updated 12 August 2020

Portugal ready for Champions League after subduing virus

  • The final was originally scheduled to take place at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul

LISBON: Seen as an example for the rest of Europe, Portugal successfully controlled the coronavirus pandemic — and earned the right to host the world’s most important club soccer tournament.

Portugal will take the center stage from Wednesday when eight of Europe’s best teams start fighting for the coveted Champions League title amid strict health protocols.

Thanks in part to its handling of the pandemic, Portugal was chosen by UEFA to stage the mini-tournament in two Lisbon stadiums over the next two weeks. Despite the country's success, there will be no fans for this week’s quarterfinals, next week’s semifinals and the Aug. 23 final.

Portugal avoided the problems that hit other southern European countries such as Italy and neighboring Spain, where the known combined COVID-19 death toll surpassed 63,000.

There have been fewer than 2,000 registered deaths in Portugal, which took quick action when the pandemic started to hit nearby countries and even though only a few cases had been reported locally.

“We are only able to host these Champions League matches because of the good behavior of the Portuguese people in the fight against the pandemic,” Portuguese Football Federation president Fernando Gomes said.

“The matches will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, helping to underline and reinforce the positive image that Portugal has given the world during a period that has been particularly difficult and demanding for everyone."

The final was originally scheduled to take place at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. Madrid was among cities which also wanted to host the reshaped mini-tournament.

Portugal, a country of 10.3 million people with an economy that relies heavily on tourism, saw a surge in outbreaks that raised concerns a few weeks ago and prompted the return of some restrictions in some places. But the numbers came down again recently and have been mostly under control in the runup to the Champions League knockout stage.

There were also concerns when Spanish club Atlético Madrid reported two positive cases in its squad ahead of its trip to Lisbon. The entire team had to be tested again and the club was cleared to travel only after negative results came back.

None of the other seven clubs involved in the quarterfinals have reported positive tests among players.

In Lisbon, they will have to comply with UEFA's 31-page return-to-play protocols for international matches. Players will be tested before departure for a host city and a day before games. Anyone who has had either a coronavirus diagnosis or “any suspicious symptoms or contacts” will be subject to pulmonary function testing and, in severe cases, “organ-dependent examinations.”

The venues are Benfica’s Stadium of Light and Sporting Lisbon’s Alvalade Stadium.


Hazard stunner gives revived Real Madrid win over Huesca

Updated 01 November 2020

Hazard stunner gives revived Real Madrid win over Huesca

  • Belgian forward ends goal drought as he thrills fans with brilliant first-half strike

MADRID: Eden Hazard scored his first goal for Real Madrid in over a year and his team appeared to turn a corner as they beat newly promoted Huesca 4-1 in La Liga on Saturday.
Hazard has had a terrible time with injuries since joining Madrid for €100 million ($113 million) from Chelsea in 2019 but the Belgian will hope his stunning strike from distance at the Alfredo di Stefano can kick-start his career in Spain.

Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde made the win secure before Huesca scored through David Ferreiro, only for Benzema to add his second and Madrid’s fourth in injury-time.

Zinedine Zidane’s side jump above Real Sociedad to the top of the table to cap an encouraging week, which began with a Clasico win over Barcelona at Camp Nou and finishes with them moving nine points clear of the Catalans, who were playing away at Alaves on Saturday.

In between, Madrid came too close for comfort to another damaging defeat in the Champions League but two late goals salvaged a draw at Borussia Monchengladbach that in the end felt like a win.

Huesca, who are yet to win this season, might feel the scoreline was harsh after they squandered early chances.

Madrid will hope the dip that put Zidane under pressure earlier this month is over.

Zidane will have been particularly delighted with Hazard, whose goal was his first for Madrid since he scored against Granada in October last year, and his second overall in La Liga.

Ankle surgery kept Hazard out for the majority of last season and he was not fit for the start of this one, with Madrid only describing his latest setback as a “muscle injury.”

But he made his first appearance off the bench in the Champions League in midweek and against Huesca marked his first start with a brilliant goal in the first half.

Until then, Huesca had been the better team but Hazard’s strike turned the contest in the 40th minute, when he received the ball on the half-turn and swerved a superb shot into the corner from 30 yards out.

Benzema made it two, chesting down Lucas Vazquez’s cross at the back post and driving in, before Valverde struck a sweet half-volley into the corner.

Ferreiro gave Huesca brief hope with 16 minutes left but Madrid were never overly troubled and Benzema rounded off the win in injury-time, converting a smart header back from Rodrygo.