Champions League ready to resume, at long last

The landmark club competition will move to Lisbon for the ‘Final 8’ starting Aug 12 and ending with the final at Estadio da Luz on Aug 23

PARIS • After an enforced hiatus of almost five months, the UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week in order to clear up the last remaining business in a troubled season.

Both competitions were frozen in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the continent, and while European football’s governing body acted swiftly to move Euro 2020 back a year, for a long time it was unclear how it would manage to complete its two landmark club competitions.

In the end, the solution was to set up two main tournaments bringing all teams together in one place from the quarter-finals onwards, with all ties being decided in one-off matches behind closed doors.

And so, the Champions League will move to Lisbon for the ‘Final Eight’ starting Aug 12 and ending with the final at Benfica’s Estadio da Luz on Aug 23.

The Europa League, meanwhile, will be played to a conclusion at a series of venues in western Germany, with the last eight beginning on Aug 10 and the final in Cologne on Aug 21.

“I believed it from the first moment,” said the UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin recently when asked if he ever doubted it would be possible to play the tournaments to a conclusion.

“At the present time, we will be playing matches without spectators until further notice. We will not take any risks.”

UEFA Not Worried

There is, though, no question of further changes being made to the formats despite concerns about an increase in Covid-19 cases in and around Lisbon, and more recent worries in Germany about a rise in cases there.

UEFA also recently insisted it is “confident” there would be no more delays despite cases of coronavirus emerging among players at Real Madrid and Sevilla.

It is, in any case, now or never.

Indeed, the preliminary round of next season’s Champions League begins Saturday, the same day Bayern Munich entertains Chelsea and Napoli visits Barcelona in their outstanding last 16 second legs.

Before that, Manchester City defends a 2-1 first-leg lead at home against Real on Friday as Pep Guardiola’s side target Champions League glory on the back of the club’s success at getting a two-year ban from the competition overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The winner of that tie will face Juventus or Lyon in the quarter-finals in Lisbon.

Wolves’ Longest Year

It is the Europa League which is first up, though, with the last 16 being completed on Wednesday and Thursday.

Two ties — Inter Milan against Getafe and Sevilla against Roma — will go ahead as one-off ties in Ger-many as the first legs were never played.

Six second legs will also be played with the winners heading to Germany for the last eight.

Among the ties to be completed is Manchester United’s against Austrian side LASK, which will be a formality for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team after they won 5-0 in the first leg in March.

Their form since the Premier League resumed in mid-June has been excellent and they have already sealed a place in the 2020-2021 Champions League, but now they want to finish this never-ending season with a trophy.

United, Europa League winners in 2017, could yet find themselves facing Premier League rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-finals in Cologne on Aug 16 should both teams get there.

Wolves entertains Greek champions Olym- piakos on Thursday, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

Their campaign started more than a year ago now, with a 2-0 win over Northern Irish side Crusaders in the second qualifying round on July 25, 2019.

Extending it by another couple of weeks would do them no harm. — AFP