The Sunday Mail
From social distancing substitutes using airport stairs, to disinfected balls and a potential television audience of one billion, the Bundesliga enjoyed a chequered restart as the first major sports league to resume amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The German top two divisions, suspended since mid-March due to the virus, returned yesterday with Bundesliga’s showcase — the Ruhr valley derby seeing Borussia Dortmund thrashing Schalke four-nil, as football-starved fans around the globe tuned in to watch live action.
Despite the possible global audience of a billion as predicted by Bayern Munich boss Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, and the hope it gave other sports leagues, it was not what fans had been hoping for. Instead of the 81 000 crowd packing in Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park, it was a mere 300 people, including players, staff, team officials, broadcasters and security personnel, as in every stadium as part of a strict health protocol. Fans have also been banned from inside and around the venues to minimise the risk of infection.
In Dortmund, Europe’s biggest standing tribune, the Yellow Wall stood impressively empty as the latest episode of the fiercest German football rivalry unfolded on the pitch.
The games sounded more like Sunday kickabouts or high-intensity training sessions than the return to action of highly-paid professionals in the world’s best attended football league with normally an average of about 42 000 spectators per game.
Police were present at the grounds prior to the start in order to deter fans from gathering outside to celebrate.
“The derby without fans is a new challenge for us but equally complex as a regular game,” Dortmund police said before the game, urging fans to stay at home.
“Make it easy for us and stay at home.” — Reuters.
Inside the stadiums masks were mandatory for everyone apart from the players.
Teams had to change their routines completely with Leipzig having brought in a set of airport stairs to keep substitutes at a distance in the tribunes, some three metres higher up than the bench.
The Bundesliga has allowed five substitutions in total per game to cope with the lack of match practice and the congested fixture schedule.
In as as the action itself, Dortmund thrashed traditional rivals Schalke to close the gap on champions and leaders Bayern Munich to one point.
Dortmund, who had won seven of their last eight games before the league was halted in mid-March, picked up where they left off as Portugal midfielder Raphael Guerreiro scored twice while Erling Haaland and Thorgan Hazard added a goal each.
The hosts celebrated a first league win over Schalke since November 2015, while the visitors stretched their winless league run to eight games, having scored only twice in the process
Elsewhere, Wolfsburg stretched their unbeaten league run to seven games with a 2-1 win at Augsburg, moving up to sixth in the standings.
The match was played inside an Augsburg Arena.
Daniel Ginczek’s stoppage-time winner secured the points after Augsburg’s Tin Jedvaj had cancelled out Renato Steffen’s first-half opener.
Augsburg were playing without their new head coach Heiko Herrlich on the sidelines, as he was not allowed to attend the match after breaking quarantine by leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
Wolfsburg took the lead two minutes before halftime when Steffen used the pace of a cross to head home from 15 metres out, giving diving keeper Andreas Luthe no chance to make a save.
The players did not celebrate as a group as part of social distancing protocols, but they could not resist the urge to give the Swiss a couple of high-fives and fist bumps.
The home side equalised from a second-half set piece when John Brooks’ headed clearance went the wrong way, came off goalkeeper Casteels’ hands and hit the bar before bouncing on the line where Jedvaj was on hand to head home. – Reuters
Bundesliga Results & Fixtures
Augsburg 1-2 Wolfsburg
Dortmund 4-0 Schalke
Dusseldorf 0-0 Paderborn
Hoffenheim 0-3 Hertha Berlin
RB Leipzig 1-1 Freiburg
Eintracht v B. Monchengladbach (Played late)
FC Koln v Mainz 3:30PM
Union Berlin v Bayern Munich 6PM
Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen 8.30pm