City of Porto prepares as Portugal steps into the Champions League breach once again

Thursday, May 27th, 2021 12:00 |
General view taken of the Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal the venue of the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday. Photo/AFP

Lisbon, Wednesday

After Lisbon last year, now it is the turn of Porto. Once again Portugal has stepped in to save UEFA by offering to host the final of the Champions League, which for the second year running was forced to move away from Istanbul due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

With its Covid-19 crisis receding, a proven ability to organise the biggest match in European club football and a good relationship between its national federation , FPF, and the European game’s governing body, Portugal turned out to be the only real option to stage Saturday’s clash between Manchester City and Chelsea.

“Once again we have turned to our friends in Portugal to help both UEFA and the Champions League and I am, as always, very grateful to the FPF and the Portuguese government for agreeing to stage the match at such short notice,” said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

It is unfortunate for Istanbul, which was initially supposed to stage the 2020 final only for UEFA to rearrange the latter stages of last season’s Champions League in Lisbon in August, three months behind schedule.

The Turkish metropolis was told it would host this season’s final instead, but that became impossible when the UK government put Turkey on its red list just after City and Chelsea ensured it would be an all-English affair.

UEFA has insisted that this season’s showpiece game would be played in front of a sizeable crowd after Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz last year behind closed doors.

But with English fans essentially banned from travelling to Turkey, and playing the game in England ruled out because of the British government’s refusal to ease its own quarantine rules for officials and media coming from abroad, another solution was required.

That solution is the Estadio do Dragao in Porto, where a total of 16,500 spectators will be able to attend Saturday’s match, after Portuguese authorities said 33 percent of the stadium’s capacity could be filled.

There will be 12,000 English fans in the ground, split evenly between the two clubs, with Portugal the only country in the European Union currently on the British government’s green list for travel.

For the government in Lisbon, the choice of Porto is being seen as “international recognition that the measures taken to combat the pandemic have produced results”, according to Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva.

He described the health context in Portugal just now as “among the best in Europe”.

That did not prevent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slamming the decision to move the final from Istanbul as “political”.

With the next three finals already awarded to other cities, including Saint-Petersburg next year, UEFA has not yet promised a future final to Istanbul.

However, it did say it would “urgently look into future opportunities for the city”.

Portugal, meanwhile, has come through a devastating wave of coronavirus infections at the beginning of the year and earlier this month moved into the final phase of its gradual easing of lockdown.

So far there has not been any significant rebound in the number of Covid-19 cases.

Nevertheless, fans arriving from England will have to respect the usual health protocols including requiring a negative coronavirus test to enter the country.          -AFP

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