LISBON, Portugal-— Seen as an example for the rest of Europe, Portugal successfully controlled the coronavirus pandemic — and earned the right to host the world’s most important club soccer tournament.
Portugal will take the center stage from Wednesday when eight of Europe’s best teams start fighting for the coveted Champions League title amid strict health protocols.
Thanks in part to its handling of the pandemic, Portugal was chosen by UEFA to stage the mini-tournament in two Lisbon stadiums over the next two weeks. Despite the country’s success, there will be no fans for this week’s quarterfinals, next week’s semifinals and the Aug. 23 final.
Portugal avoided the problems that hit other southern European countries such as Italy and neighboring Spain, where the known combined COVID-19 death toll surpassed 63,000.
There have been fewer than 2,000 registered deaths in Portugal, which took quick action when the pandemic started to hit nearby countries and even though only a few cases had been reported locally.
“We are only able to host these Champions League matches because of the good behavior of the Portuguese people in the fight against the pandemic,” Portuguese Football Federation president Fernando Gomes said.
“The matches will be seen by hundreds of millions of people, helping to underline and reinforce the positive image that Portugal has given the world during a period that has been particularly difficult and demanding for everyone.”
The final was originally scheduled to take place at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul. Madrid was among cities which also wanted to host the reshaped mini-tournament.