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28 Nov, 2021 13:28

‘A dark chapter’: Football match abandoned after Covid forces team to play with 7 men

‘A dark chapter’: Football match abandoned after Covid forces team to play with 7 men

A Portuguese top-flight match was abandoned by the referee after injuries and a Covid outbreak meant a team started the second half with just seven players on the pitch.

The Primera Liga fixture between Benfica and Belenenses quickly descended into the absurd on Saturday evening after the relegation-threatened Belenenses side were unable to use 17 of their players and forced to begin the game with just nine players – including a goalkeeper playing in an outfield position.

The squad was depleted by one of their players testing positive for Covid-19 after returning from international duty in South Africa, with 16 further cases of the virus soon being reported afterwards within their ranks.

This comes amid fears of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, which has been discovered in regions of southern African and elsewhere and has prompted several governments in the EU to introduce new restrictions on people traveling from those areas.

Belenenses had asked Portuguese football authorities to postpone the game due to the majority of their first team squad being unavailable – but that was denied, prompting the club to field the vastly under-strength side.

League leaders Benfica, who started the match with a two-man advantage, wasted little time in running up a score and were leading 7-0 at half-time.

The situation deteriorated further after the break when just seven Belenenses players emerged to play the second half – and shortly after kick-off, goalkeeper Joao Monteiro, who was playing in an outfield position, sat down on the grass and claimed he had been injured, forcing the referee to call off the game as Belenenses were below the required number of players needed to fulfil a fixture. 

"In the middle of the afternoon we communicated to the Liga that we didn't want to play the game," said Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares.

"We had eight players who could attend the game and, as such, they told us that if we didn't attend the game it would be unjustified absence. Playing here today was a shame for all of us."

Benfica's president, former Portuguese international Rui Costa, said that the game was a "dark chapter" for the country and that his side was "forced" by league authorities to play the game.

"I regret what happened today – a dark chapter for Portuguese football and for the country itself," he said.

Sporting Lisbon, currently third in the Portuguese top flight, added their own statement saying that the game undermined the credibility of the league.

"Portuguese football as a whole is seriously harmed today," they said. "What is happening has serious implications for the credibility of this championship and the institutions that regulate it.

"What made this situation possible must deserve a deep reflection by all those who defend the sporting truth and must deserve national attention at the highest level.

"It is already receiving international attention and marking yet another dark episode in Portuguese football."

As for the Belenenses players, they released a joint statement after the game to say that they felt that "football lost its heart" after they claimed they were given no choice but to play the game. 

"Football only has heart if it is competitive. Football only has heart if it is really sporting," they said. "Football only has heart when it is an example of public health. Today, football lost its heart."