June 17, 2020 / 4:27 PM / 24 days ago

Lisbon's football fans over the moon as city to host Champions League

LISBON (Reuters) - Lisbon soccer lovers rejoiced on Wednesday after UEFA said the city will host the final phase of the season’s Champions League in August, with some hoping the major sporting tournament will help revive the country’s novel coronavirus-damaged economy.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - Round of 32 First Leg - Sporting CP v Istanbul Basaksehir - Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon, Portugal - February 20, 2020 General view inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

“I think it’s great. It will be a success,” 69-year-old Luis Martins told Reuters as he stood outside Benfica’s stadium, one of the two Lisbon venues hosting matches. “And it’s great for the Portuguese economy too.”

This season’s Champions League was suspended in March because of the pandemic, leaving fans and players in limbo.

But European soccer’s governing body UEFA finally confirmed on Wednesday that continental season will be completed in the Portuguese capital in August with an eight-team mini-tournament.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin said he expected matches to be played without fans, although there was a small chance that could change.

“If I could I would already be inside the stadium,” said soccer fan Claudia Martins. “If we can go to concerts why can’t we go to a football match?”

“(But) it’s a beginning, it’s a very good thing, it will bring cash to Portugal,” the 42-year-old added.

Portugal, which has so far reported a total of 37,672 cases and 1,523 deaths from the new coronavirus, much lower than neighbouring Spain, began lifting its lockdown on May 4.

The country has been hailed as a success story in its fight against the virus, but localised outbreaks in and around Lisbon have kept cases at a worrying plateau in their hundreds per day for the past month.

As fears of a second wave of infections emerge, some soccer fans said they would rather the matches be played behind closed doors.

“I think it’s better at this stage to have no fans in the stadiums,” said 47-year-old Paulo Lopes. “I will watch it at home. Even if just on TV it is always good to know it is taking place in Portugal.”

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Ken Ferris

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