Portugal ready for Champions League after subduing virus

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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.


Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

Updated 22 September 2020

Dapper Pirlo and Juventus move on from Sarri era

  • Pirlo’s Juve look slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri under Sarri

MILAN: Wearing a suit and tie, new Juventus coach Andrea Pirlo cut a very different figure on the sidelines to his predecessor Maurizio Sarri, who often appeared wearing a tracksuit.

And his Juventus team also looked slicker and more attractive than the Bianconeri of the Sarri era.

Right from the start of Juve’s 3-0 win at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday there was an intensity to the team’s play that had been lacking for much of the previous year.

“We accepted the changes made by the club,” Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “This season, the new coach is Pirlo, who has changed our way of interpreting soccer that we had last year.

“It’s too early to say if it is right or not, but it is different.”

Juve’s new players also suit Juve’s new style even if Weston McKennie — the first American to play for the Italian champion — was the only player Pirlo signed.

McKennie assisted on two of his side’s goals and also had chances himself.

Two of the team’s other new players who stood out, Dejan Kulusevski and Arthur, were signed by Sarri but fit well into Pirlo’s set-up.

“We have four central midfielders with the right characteristics to play like this,” Bonucci said. “McKennie, Adrien and Arthur and Rodrigo cover a lot of the pitch. They have the legs to be aggressive and are also good at passing the ball.

“That way, we manage to unite being aggressive and having more quality in possession, I think that’s the difference from last season.”

Pirlo has had little time to settle into his new role. The 41-year-old was handed his first coaching job at the end of July when he was put in charge of Juventus’ under-23 team, which play in Serie C. But he had not led a game before he was promoted to replace the fired Sarri.

However, Pirlo knows several of the players well having played with them at the club.

The former midfield great kicked off an unprecedented era of dominance when he joined Juventus in 2011, helping the side to the first four of its record nine successive Serie A titles.

Pirlo has once again been tasked with leading the team to new heights — this time the Champions League, which Juventus hasn’t won since 1996 but which Pirlo won as a player twice with AC Milan.

Massimiliano Allegri went closest for Juventus, steering it to the final in 2015 and 2017.

“Pirlo is much more similar to Allegri (than Sarri), but everyone has their own character,” Bonucci said with a wry smile and a laugh. “Andrea transmits a lot of calm serenity, as he did when he was a player when you could give him the ball in the midst of five opponents and you were sure he wouldn’t lose it.

“We have great respect for him and for this path that has just begun, which I’m sure will allow us to take away great satisfaction.”