All eyes on Germany as Bundesliga football returns
Berlin (AFP) – The Bundesliga returns to action on Saturday with the resumption of the first top European league since the coronavirus lockdown watched closely to see if it provides a blueprint for other competitions.
Matches will be played behind closed doors and players and coaches, who have been in quarantine for the past week, must follow stringent hygiene guidelines.
In the highlight of six matches on Saturday, Borussia Dortmund host Schalke 04 in the Ruhr Derby at 1330 GMT, a fixture that would normally attract an 82,000 crowd to Signal Iduna Park.
But supporters will be locked out — Germans are calling them “Geisterspiele”, or ghost games.
Although Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.
On Sunday, Bayern Munich will resume their quest for an eighth successive Bundesliga title when they play in the capital against Union Berlin.
Bayern were four points clear at the top of the table when the season was suspended in March. An exciting Dortmund team featuring Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland and highly-rated English forward Jadon Sancho are in second place.
– Mass testing –
The German Football League (DFL) made no secret of the fact that several clubs are already in a dire financial situation as a result of the lockdown.
If they are able to complete the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30, clubs could receive around 300 million euros ($324 million) in money from television contracts.
To order to get the political green light to resume, the DFL has put in place the mass testing of players and staff.
The matches themselves will be surrounded by extraordinary measures.
Teams will arrive at stadiums in several buses in order to meet social distancing requirements inside the vehicles.
Once play begins, players have been warned not to shake hands or embrace to celebrate goals, while substitutes and coaches on the bench must wear protective masks.
There are also concerns that supporters will try to approach stadiums to support their teams from afar. Police in Dortmund have appealed to fans to stay at home.
Clubs in England, Spain and Italy, where leagues are weeks away from returning to action, will be watching to see how the weekend’s action passes off.
The Bundesliga is expecting millions of extra fans to watch television coverage worldwide, with particular interest in football-mad Brazil and Mexico.