Soccer

UEFA to pick Lisbon as Champions League knockout rounds host

AP

The Champions League final is heading to Lisbon, with UEFA planning an Aug. 23 final to cap seven broadcast nights in a 12-day span of elite European teams playing knockout soccer.

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.

UEFA’s executive committee must agree on the plan on Wednesday among a series of decisions to reschedule international soccer — for Europe’s clubs and national teams — after the coronavirus pandemic upended the global sports calendar.

The confederation's priority during the shutdown was to stabilize 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 UEFA’s reschedule plan succeeds, only two broadcast slots are lost.

Lisbon was the losing candidate in May 2018 when UEFA picked Istanbul to host this season's Champions League final. Now, it will host seven games instead of one.

The most prized trophy in club soccer will be decided in a rare Sunday final at Benfica’s 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.

Semifinals will be shared by the Stadium of Light and the nearby home stadium of Sporting Lisbon on Aug. 18-19. Four quarterfinals are planned on consecutive nights from Aug. 12-15, Sky Italia reported.

Four quarterfinals places have yet to be decided, and the UEFA executive panel must decide on Wednesday where to schedule second-leg games in the round of 16 that were postponed in March.

Those games could also go to Lisbon or be played without fans in the home stadiums of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Manchester City.

The Europa League mini-tournament is set to be shared by four cities in western Germany with Cologne hosting the final on Friday, Aug. 21. It was meant to be on Wednesday, May 27 in Gdansk, Poland.

The second-tier competition also paused at the round of 16 in March. Six first-leg games were played and two more — Inter Milan-Getafe and Roma-Sevilla — could not be played in Italy when that country was hit hard by coronavirus cases.

The Women’s Champions League is set to resume in the quarterfinals with a mini-tournament in Spain ahead of an Aug. 30 final, postponed from May 24 in Vienna.

UEFA will also have its hands full in planning for next season.

In a typical campaign, 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. Istanbul and Gdansk could also get their hosting chance one year on.

The Super Cup game between the Champions League and Europa League winners is also being moved from mid-August in Portugal to Sept. 24 in Budapest, Hungary.

UEFA is also expected to ratify renewed contractual commitments for the postponed European Championship's 12 host cities and finalize a schedule for the last round of qualifying playoffs, which were originally scheduled for March and June and are now likely to take place in October and November.

New dates for the Nations League, which determines seeding for 2022 World Cup qualifying, as well as makeup dates for the World Cup qualifiers themselves must also be determined.

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