Champions League to be completed with 'final eight' in Lisbon in August
The 2019-2020 Champions League season, suspended since March because of the global pandemic, will be completed in a 'final eight' format in Lisbon in August, UEFA said on Wednesday.
Europe's top club competition will be decided by a series of one-off matches from the quarter-final stage beginning in the Portuguese capital on August 12, with the final on August 23, European football's governing body confirmed following a meeting of its executive committee.
Similarly, the Europa League will be completed with a 'final eight' across four German cities, with the final in Cologne on August 21.
The closing stages of the women's Champions League will also go ahead in an eight-team straight knock-out tournament in Bilbao and San Sebastian, in Spain, from August 21 to 30.
"Football is leading the return to a more normal life here in Europe," said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, but in all cases it remains to be seen if any supporters will be allowed to attend matches.
Games around Europe are currently being played behind closed doors amid strict health guidelines, and Ceferin said no decision would be made on whether to let spectators in "until mid-July".
"If I would answer today then we don't think we could have spectators at the Europa League and Champions League quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals but things are changing rapidly," he said.
"A month ago I couldn't even answer if we could play the competition. Now we will play it, hopefully."
With the European death toll from the disease easing and numerous EU countries this week opening their borders again to visitors, there is some hope that matches can be played before crowds.
Ceferin added: "We don't know if (it would be) only the local fans, if no fans, or even if fans from different clubs could travel."
- Istanbul awarded 2021 final -
The men's Champions League final was initially due to be played in Istanbul in May before the crisis took hold.
The Turkish city will now host the 2021 final instead, with Saint-Petersburg, Munich and London hosting the following three years.
UEFA said all matches would be split between Benfica's 65,000-capacity Estadio da Luz, and the nearby 50,000-seat Estadio Jose Alvalade, home of Sporting.
Portugal's credentials to host the mini-tournament were boosted by the fact that it has not been as badly hit by the pandemic as other western European countries, and it has no clubs left in the competition. The Portuguese league recently resumed matches behind closed doors.
"UEFA has shown the confidence it has in the Portuguese people," said Fernando Gomes, head of the country's football federation.
- 'No Plan B' -
There are still restrictions in place in wider Portuguese society, as the country eases its lockdown, but UEFA is confident there will be no need for another change of plan between now and August.
"For now things look well, and we hope everything will be fine until we organise the final eight. There is no reason to have a Plan B but we are assessing the situation, not week by week but day by day, and we will adapt when the time comes, if necessary," said Ceferin.
The draw for the Champions League quarter-finals will take place on July 10. There are still four last 16, second legs to be completed, and it is possible those games could also be moved to Portugal.
Atletico Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig and Atalanta all qualified for the quarter-finals before the competition was suspended.
The remaining last 16, second legs are:
Juventus v Lyon; Manchester City v Real Madrid; Bayern Munich v Chelsea and Barcelona v Napoli. If needed, the games will be played in the Portuguese cities of Porto and Guimaraes.
As well as Cologne, the nearby German cities of Duisburg, Duesseldorf and Gelsenkirchen will be used for the Europa League final eight, starting on August 10.
Before that there are a host of last-16 ties to complete. None of the second legs have been played, while the first legs between Inter Milan and Getafe, and Sevilla and Roma, were postponed too -- those ties will now be played as a single leg at a venue to be confirmed.
The Europa League final was supposed to be played in the Polish city of Gdansk, which will now host next year's final instead.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Franck Fife