With boardroom bickering over five substitutions, concerns at supporters congregating at stadiums and a player REFUSING to train… Portugal’s Primeira Liga restarts tonight in a state of chaos as Benfica and Porto renew their title charge
- Portugal’s top-flight, the Primeira Liga, restarts on Wednesday with two games
- Porto are one point ahead of rivals Benfica at the top, but are without a player
- Japanese winger Shoya Nakajima has refused to train due to health reservations
- There is also very real concern about supporters congregating outside grounds
- Issues of subs, stadium use and broadcasting have also overshadowed restart
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Following the resumption of the Bundesliga 18 days ago, the second of Europe’s top leagues restarts this evening: the Portuguese Primeira Liga.
With Bayern Munich’s victory over Borussia Dortmund last week, Bayern look set to coast to another German title but in Portugal it is an all-together tighter story, with one point separating the top two, in fierce rivals Porto and Benfica.
Porto have the edge, and are one of the first teams in action as they travel to face mid-table Famalicão tonight.
Alex Telles’ Porto side are one point ahead of rivals Benfica in the Primeira Liga table
But they will be without Japanese international Shoya Nakajima, who has refused to train with the group due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus.
In addition, there have been further off-field debates and squabbles over the number of substitutions teams can use in games, the location of two sides’ home games at a neutral base in the capital and whether matches should be aired on free-to-air television.
All in all, Portugal’s restart seems a little more hectic then that of Germany’s, particularly with the prospect of fans congregating outside stadiums a very real concern – Sportsmail takes a look at everything you need to know ahead of the resumption of Portuguese domestic football.
Bundesliga matches have taken place without trouble in behind closed doors conditions
What measures are being taking against the spread of COVID-19?
Wednesday June 3
- Portimonense vs Gil Vicente (19:00 BST)
- Famalicao vs Porto (21:15)
Thursday June 4
- Maritimo vs Vitoria FC (18:00)
- Benfica vs Tondela (19:15)
- Vitoria SC vs Sporting Lisbon (21:15)
Friday June 5
- Santa Clara vs Braga (19:00)
- Aves vs Belenenses (21:15)
Saturday June 6
- Boavista vs Moreirense (21:15)
Sunday June 7
- Rio Ave vs Pacos Ferreira (21:00)
Precautionary measures in Germany for the Bundesliga will also be in place in Portugal, as action resumes on Wednesday evening behind closed doors.
Substitutes will be spread out on the touchline, while managers and backroom staff will be encouraged to wear face masks as regularly as possible. Expect to see plenty of elbow-taps for celebrations too, as football adapts to the new normal in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
However, there have been points of contention in which agreement has not been reached between Portugal’s top-division clubs, the national football federation and the league itself.
Despite health authorities calling for games to be staged ‘in the fewest number of stadiums as possible’, 16 of the 18 teams will use their home ground.
The two exceptions? Santa Clara, a club based on the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, and Belenenses, who will both instead play at the Portuguese national team base in Lisbon, Cidade do Futebol.
In terms of the actual matches, Maritimo are blocking proposals to allow five substitutions – up from the standard three – to ease the physical strain on players. Five changes have been permitted in the Bundesliga and is a protocol set to be adopted by the Premier League – but seemingly not for the time being in Portugal.
At boardroom level, there has also been squabbling over the potential of broadcasting matches on free-to-air television, away from the league’s pay TV partners.
Santa Clara and Belenenses will both play their home games at Cidade do Futebol in Lisbon
Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira said he was ‘outraged’ on Monday by an open letter from Primeira Liga president, and former professional referee, Pedro Proenca.
Proenca asked for politicians’ help so matches could be shown on free-to-air channels, in an attempt to stop supporters from gathering in groups to watch
Benfica’s rivals Porto have not missed the opportunity to have a dig at their rivals, accusing Vieria of leading a revolt against the league.
Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira wants matches to stay with subscription channels
Games will remain on subscription channels for the time being, propagating concerns about die-hard supporters congregating outside stadiums.
Will supporters congregate outside stadiums?
As supposed to the mooted worry in the UK, and the obedience of fans in Germany, there is a very real concern amongst Portuguese authorities about supporters congregating at stadiums – even when they can’t watch inside.
The issue could rear its ugly head as soon as tonight, with members of a Porto fan group said they planned to make the trip to nearby Vila Nova de Famalicao to support their team.
A Porto’s supporter group have said 300 fans will travel for their game against Famalicao
A total of 300 supporters are expected to travel, though they have insisted they would maintain public health guidelines regarding social distancing – this despite the fact that public gatherings of more than 20 people are prohibited.
‘There shouldn’t be any fans outside the stadiums,’ Graça Freitas, Portugal’s health director-general, said. ‘We don’t want people gathering at cafes or places where the games will be shown on television. The virus remains out there. It hasn’t disappeared.
‘The rules still must be followed. The restart of the league is an important step, it took a huge effort. Now we have to ensure that the season ends safely and that nobody gets infected because of soccer.
The Porto fans have been urged not to travel by Portugal’s health director-general
‘Social responsibility must prevail. We are not going to risk everything that we have achieved so far.’
Are players OK with returning?
All players have been tested this week before being cleared to play, with four teams having had at least one positive COVID-19 test since training resumed at the beginning of May.
However, Japanese international Shoya Nakajima – who plays for Porto – has decided not to train, with his wife suffering from health problems.
Porto’s Shoya Nakajima has not returned to training due to concerns about coronavirus
According to Portuguese outlet A Bola, the winger has opted to stay at home to prevent any chance of his other half contracting the virus.
‘Nakajima is not with the group,’ said Porto manager Sergio Conceicao on Tuesday, ahead of Wednesday’s encounter.
‘The board will deal with it and there is not much more we can say,’ he added, reportedly not best pleased with the his player’s decision.
Nakajima tried to persuade the manager that training at home and following a similar diet to the one agreed on during lockdown would be enough to get into the side for the match tonight – but Conceicao rejected this proposal, and promptly removed him from the squad.
Porto manager Sergio Conceicao has removed Nakajima from the squad for tonight’s game
Benfica, who play their first game back on Thursday at home to Tondela, put their entire squad into quarantine last Friday, in order to minimise the health risk, but that approach has not been adopted by all clubs.
What’s on the line?
Plenty! Porto are top of the league by a point to early runaway leaders Benfica, with 10 games to go.
Benfica won 18 out of their first 19 fixtures, before tailing away prior to lockdown in March.
Benfica forward Carlos Vinicius is the league’s top scorer this season with 15 goals so far
Benfica forward Carlos Vinicius and central midfielder Pizzi are the league’s top-two goalscorers, on 15 goals and 14 goals respectively, whilst Porto’s top scorer, Chelsea target Alex Telles, is on eight goals.
The opening round of fixtures will take place over five days, with all nine games taking place with different kick-off times for maximum exposure.
With the top-two, and therefore Champions League qualification, all but secured, a battle is also brewing below them for Europa League places, currently occupied by Braga, Sporting Lisbon and Rio Ave.
However, Vitória de Guimarães and Famalicão are just a point outside potential European football next season and that coveted fifth spot.
Sporting Lisbon, where Yannick Bolasie (R) is on loan from Everton, are currently in fourth
At the bottom though, the situation looks very gloomy for both Aves and Portimonense, even with 10 matches to go.
Aves are bottom on 13 points – 10 from safety – while Porimonense are on 16 points, with a more surmountable deficit to overcome of six points, from Paços de Ferreira in 16th place.
Finally, fans in the UK can watch the Primeira Liga on FreeSports and Premier Sports, with Porto’s match on Wednesday and Benfica’s opening game on Thursday both being broadcasted live.
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