Three top teams self-isolate, Champions League games called off as virus hits soccer


Three of the world’s leading soccer teams were in self-isolation Thursday as the sport grappled with a deepening virus outbreak that prompted the cancellation of Champions League matches for the first time, including the high-profile last-16 game between Manchester City and Real Madrid.

Arsenal’s entire squad was in quarantine after its manager, Mikel Arteta, tested positive for COVID-19 late Thursday.

Earlier, Real Madrid said its players were being placed in isolation after one of the club’s basketball players, who share facilities with Madrid’s soccer players, tested positive for the virus. That led to the instant decision by the Spanish League to bring matches to a halt for the next two rounds and, hours later, its match against Man City to be canceled.

Juventus’ players, including Cristiano Ronaldo, were already in self-isolation after defender Daniele Rugani tested positive for the virus on Wednesday.

In announcing the postponement of the second leg between City and Madrid in the round of 16 on Tuesday, UEFA said the Juventus-Lyon match — scheduled for the same night — was also off.

The coronavirus pandemic was taking its toll on leagues and cup competitions around the world, from the Netherlands to the United States and to South America, where qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup have been postponed by FIFA.

No new dates have been arranged by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, for the two postponed Champions League games. City leads 2-1 from the first leg in Madrid and Lyon leads 1-0 from the first leg in France.

UEFA said it has called stakeholders to a meeting by video conference on Tuesday to deal with the effect on European competitions of the coronavirus outbreak.

“All domestic and European competitions,” including this year’s multi-country European Championship, will be discussed.

The World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, citing its alarming spread and severity. It has infected more then 125,000 people worldwide and caused more than 4,500 deaths since erupting in China.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Elsewhere, Dutch soccer authorities canceled all matches until the end of the month, including friendly internationals against the United States and Spain, and Portugal shut down its league until further notice. The Belgian League backpedaled on its decision to keep stadiums open to fans during the outbreak, saying the last round of regular-season matches in the top league scheduled for this weekend will be played in empty stadiums.

Major League Soccer in the United States was also shutting down for a 30-day period because of the virus.

In South America, FIFA agreed to a request by all of CONCACAF’s member federations to delay the start of World Cup qualifying, which had been set to begin later this month. It did not set new dates for the games.

Next week’s group-stage matches of the Copa Libertadores tournament were also postponed. Three Copa Libertadores matches scheduled for Thursday were set to go ahead.

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