Belenenses-Benfica match ends early after COVID-19 ravages home team

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Belenenses played one of their goalkeepers, Joao Monteiro, off-field and had no substitutes at the Estadio Nacional where Benfica took a 7-0 lead before half-time.

Belenenses’ SAD players arrive on the pitch ahead of the Portuguese league soccer match between Belenenses SAD and SL Benfica at the Jamor d’Oeiras stadium on the outskirts of Lisbon on Saturday. AFP

Madrid: A Primeira Liga match between Belenenses and Benfica was called off in the second half on Saturday after Belenenses started with just nine players, including two goalkeepers, after being decimated by a COVID-19 outbreak.

Belenenses faced one of their goalkeepers, Joao Monteiro, off-field and had no substitute at the Estadio Nacional where Benfica took a 7-0 lead before half-time.

The match was called off by referee Manuel Mota three minutes into the second half, after three injuries Belenenses were reduced to six players.

“It was a shame to play here tonight,” said Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares, applauding “the players who were forced to play”.

Reports in Portugal have claimed Belenenses are without 14 players due to COVID, along with several staff members.

Belenenses coach Filipe Candido had indicated on Saturday that he would have to promote some U23 players due to injuries and suspensions.

After informing the league “that we did not wish to play the match, we were told that we had eight players capable of playing” and “not showing up could be considered an unjustified absence”, said the president of Belenenses.

“It’s a dark chapter for Portuguese football,” said Benfica president Rui Costa, adding that his club “just like Belenenses were forced to play” to abide by the rules.

Fans at the stadium chanted: “The league is a disgrace.”

The decision to go ahead with the game drew widespread criticism, with Belenenses midfielder Afonso Sousa, one of the absentees, writing on Twitter: “Football only has color if it has competition. Football only has color if it has sporting truth. Football only has color when it is an example of public health. Today, football has lost its color.”

The same message was posted by several Sousa teammates.

Manchester City’s Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva wrote: “What is this? Am I the only one who doesn’t understand why the game hasn’t been postponed?”

Belenenses were 16th in the Primeira Liga at the start of the game while Benfica were third.

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