PARIS: The Champions League final is heading to Lisbon, with UEFA planning an August 23 final to cap seven broadcast nights in a 12-day span of elite European teams playing knockout football.
The widely reported UEFA wish to hold an eight-team knockout bracket in two empty stadiums in Portugal’s capital was confirmed in reports Monday by broadcaster Sky Italia.
UEFAs executive committee must agree on the plan on Wednesday among a series of decisions to reschedule international football for Europe’s clubs and national teams after the coronavirus pandemic upended the global sports calendar.
The most prized trophy in club football will be decided in a rare Sunday final at Benficas Stadium of Light. It was originally to be on Saturday, May 30 at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, but UEFA looked elsewhere when that city was no longer practical.
Under the plan the competition, which was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, will resume with the second-leg of remaining last 16 games played at the scheduled venues.
Semi-finals will be shared between Lisbon’s two major stadiums — Benfica’s Estadio da Luz and Sporting Lisbon’s Jose Alvalade stadium on August 18-19. Four quarter-finals are planned on consecutive nights from August 12-15.
The plan allows for a quicker completion of the season than the traditional two-legged home and away format but does mean the competition will have six fewer games which will cost UEFA broadcast revenue.
In the current context, grouping all teams together in one place and reducing travel is the wisest solution, although it remains to be seen how many fans, if any, could attend.
Football in most countries is being played behind closed doors, yet UEFA’s meeting comes in the same week many EU member states — Portugal among them — opened up once again to foreign visitors.
The teams already qualified for the quarter-finals are France’s Paris St Germain, Italy’s Atalanta, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Germany’s RB Leipzig.
The remaining last 16 second-leg fixtures are Manchester City’s home leg against Real Madrid, Chelsea’s trip to Bayern Munich, Juventus’s home game against Olympique Lyonnais and Napoli’s visit to Barcelona.
Istanbul was due to host the 2020 final but will now, instead be the venue for the 2021 edition, with all other scheduled hosts moving back a year.
Only last week Turkey’s Sports Minister, Mehmet Kasapoglu, expressed confidence that the city would not lose out.
I have no doubt it will take place in the best way in Turkey. We’re confident that we will receive good news on June 17,” he said.
However, last month the New York Times reported that Istanbul could instead be awarded a future final, when it is safe for fans to travel in large numbers.
Lisbon was the losing candidate in May 2018 when UEFA picked Istanbul to host this season’s final.
After the pandemic wreaked havoc on soccers calendar, Lisbon is set to have seven games instead of one in an unprecedented mid-August mini-tournament of single-leg games.
UEFAs priority during the shutdown was to stabilise hundreds of clubs by allowing time to finish domestic leagues and cups by the first weekend in August.
Next in line is rushing to finish the Champions League and fulfil broadcasting contracts which help pay clubs more than 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in prize money. If UEFAs reschedule plan succeeds, only two broadcast slots are lost.
The Women’s Champions League is set to resume in the quarter-finals with a mini-tournament in Spain ahead of an August 30 final, postponed from May 24 in Vienna.
Gdansk in Poland was slated to host the Europa League final on May 27 but that competition also looks set to finish in a watered down“Final Eight” format.
The Europa League mini-tournament is set to be shared by four cities in western Germany — Duisburg, Duesseldorf, Gelsenkirchen and Cologne — with Cologne hosting the final on Friday, August 21.
While only four Champions League last-16 games remain, the Europa League has 10. It could be eight if Inter-Getafe and AS Roma-Sevilla become single-leg games.
UEFA’s announcements will have a knock-on effect on when next season can start around Europe. Everything could be derailed by a second wave of coronavirus infections.
In a typical season, teams from 55 UEFA member federations play qualifying rounds in the Champions League and Europa League from late-June through August. Six places in the Champions League and 31 places in the Europa League are on offer and feed into group-stage draws in Monaco in late August.
This process involving a lot of travel has been complicated by the pandemic.
A UEFA club competitions panel will meet on Wednesday ahead of the executive body to help make efficient sense of the challenge.
The next group stages will likely start in October instead of September. The traditional opener to the European season, the UEFA Super Cup, is expected to be held in Budapest on September 24.
Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2020