Europe’s best ready for unique bat­tle

Cape Argus - - SPORT -

WITH the big do­mes­tic leagues and cups fi­nally done and dusted, Cham­pi­ons League and Europa League ac­tion re­sumes this week be­fore cul­mi­nat­ing in unique mini­tour­na­ment fi­nals in Por­tu­gal and Ger­many.

The rul­ing body Uefa gave its mem­bers the chance to com­plete their do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tions as it post­poned Euro 2020 un­til next year and put its club events on hold.

But the coro­n­avirus is still very much present when the Europa League completes its last 16 tomorrow and Thurs­day, and the Cham­pi­ons League fol­lows suit on Fri­day and Satur­day.

Two Ital­ian-Span­ish Europa League fix­tures, In­ter Mi­lan v Getafe and Sevilla v Roma, will be played as sin­gle-leg ties in Ger­many be­cause their first legs had not been played when foot­ball shut down in March.

From the quar­ter-fi­nals on­wards, all games will be sin­gle-leg, the Cham­pi­ons League in Lis­bon Au­gust 12-23 and the Europa League in Gelsenkirc­hen, Cologne, Dus­sel­dorf and Duis­burg Au­gust 10-21.

That also ap­plies to the women’s Cham­pi­ons League which will be com­pleted Au­gust 21-30 in San Se­bas­tian, Spain.

“I am de­lighted that we found so­lu­tions to stage the fi­nal rounds of all those com­pe­ti­tions,” Uefa pres­i­dent Alek­sander Ce­ferin has said, adding that the for­mat is a one-off and won’t be used again in the fu­ture.

Games will be played be­hind closed doors and a strict health pro­to­col is in place for play­ers, of­fi­cials and ev­ery­one else in­volved.

Uefa’s chief med­i­cal Tim Meyer, who also headed a task-force that cre­ated the con­cept for the early restart of the Ger­man Bun­desliga, is up­beat that ev­ery­thing will be fine.

“A fi­nal tour­na­ment that takes place in one coun­try can be or­ga­nized rel­a­tively well,” he said re­cently.

How­ever, there are un­cer­tain­ties about some of the last 16 games, with Napoli pres­i­dent Aure­lio De Lau­ren­tiis ques­tion­ing why they have to play at Barcelona’s Nou Camp amid a resur­gence of Covid-19 cases in Cat­alo­nia.

“I don’t un­der­stand why we have to go to a city that at the mo­ment has huge prob­lems,” he was quoted as say­ing.

Real Madrid are mean­while ex­empt from Bri­tain’s 14-day quar­an­tine guide­lines when they visit Manch­ester City on Fri­day, and ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment guide­lines will “live and work in con­trolled bub­bled en­vi­ron­ments be­hind closed doors”.

City lead that tie 2-1, while Bay­ern Munich host Chelsea 3-0 up, Ju­ven­tus need to make up a 1-0 loss against Olympique Lyon, and Barcelona and Napoli are tied at 1-1.

The other four have al­ready reached the last eight and been drawn into two quar­ter-fi­nals: Atletico Madrid v Leipzig and Ata­lanta v Paris Saint-Ger­main.

For Manch­ester City mid­fielder Ilk­lay Guen­do­gan, this year’s out­come is hard to pre­dict, not only be­cause hold­ers Liver­pool have been knocked out by Atletico.

“In one game you no longer have the op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect mis­takes from the first leg. This makes the whole thing more ex­cit­ing for the fans and also en­sures that there can be rather big sur­prises,” Guen­do­gan told yes­ter­day’s edi­tion of Ger­man sports mag­a­zine Kicker.

“In my view, it is not at all pre­dictable which team has the best con­di­tions,” he added.

PSG have played only two games since the French League was stopped and then aban­doned, Bay­ern’s last of­fi­cial match was the cup fi­nal on July 4 while the Serie A only ended on Sun­day.

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