Barcelona’s Champions League round of 16 return match against Napoli scheduled for March 18 has been ordered to be played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus outbreak, both clubs announced Tuesday.
“The Champions League match scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, between FC Barcelona and Napoli, will be played at Camp Nou behind closed doors,” the Spanish giants said on Twitter.
Two other Champions League matches – Tuesday’s tie between Valencia and Atalanta in Spain, and Wednesday’s Paris Saint-Germain v Borussia Dortmund match – are scheduled to be played in empty stadiums in efforts to curb the spread of the killer virus.
PSG’s match at the Parc des Princes was forced behind closed doors after the French government announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 1,000 people in a country where 1,412 cases of COVID-19 infections have been recorded and 25 deaths.
The announcement was closely followed by the postponement of the Six Nations rugby match between France and Ireland scheduled for Saturday in Paris.
Spanish club Valencia’s match against Atalanta was considered high risk and ordered behind closed doors because the Italian side come from Bergamo in the Lombardy region, one of the areas of Italy most affected by the virus.
Italy, Europe’s worst-hit country with 9,172 cases and 463 deaths, on Monday banned all sporting events until April 3, suspending all Serie A football fixtures.
Barcelona said the match would be played without spectators in line with recommendations from the regional Catalan government. The decision was taken following a meeting between club officials and Catalan medical staff earlier Tuesday.
“The decision was taken on medical grounds,” Catalonia’s health chief Joan Graux said following the meeting.
Napoli, meanwhile, were forced to deny press reports that they had asked for the match to be postponed.
“Napoli abides by decisions taken by the Italian government and UEFA.” the club tweeted, describing the reports as fake news.
Elsewhere, Valencia will attempt an unlikely comeback without their fans on Tuesday when they play Atalanta in the Champions League behind closed doors due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Retrieving a 4-1 defeat from the first leg in Italy was always going to be a formidable task for Valencia but looks even more so after Uefa instructed their home tie at Mestalla be played in an empty stadium to limit the spread in Spain.
Spain has been less affected so far, with just under 1,000 confirmed cases as on Monday and 37 in the Valencian Community, which includes Castellon, Valencia and Alicante.
Valencia announced on February 28 they would be suspending all non-sporting activity with the club’s first team players after a journalist attending the opening fixture against Atalanta on February 19 was confirmed to have been infected.
It meant all engagement with the media before and after subsequent matches against Real Betis on February 29 and Alaves on Friday was cancelled, while a tribute to the club’s former player David Villa was also called off.
But the last-16 meeting with Atalanta will be Valencia’s first to be contested behind closed doors and, in theory, puts them at a significant disadvantage in their bid to reach the Champions League’s quarter-finals.
(With AFP inputs)