June 1, 2020 / 2:15 PM / in 2 months

Portugal's familiar two-horse race resumes in unusual conditions

(Reuters) - Portugal’s Primeira Liga restarts on Wednesday in unusual conditions after the novel coronavirus stoppage but with a familiar feel as the country’s leading two teams resume battle.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - Round of 32 Second Leg - FC Porto v Bayer Leverkusen - Estadio do Dragao, Porto, Portugal - February 27, 2020 General view outside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Miguel Vidal/File Photo

While matches must be played without fans, as in other countries where football is reawakening, the title contest will as usual be a two-horse race between old rivals Porto and Benfica who have had a duopoly on the trophy since 2002.

Porto are one point ahead of holders Benfica with Braga 13 further behind in third place with 10 rounds of matches left.

The action starts on Wednesday when Portimonense host Gil Vicente (1800 GMT) before Porto visit promoted Famalicao (2015), while Benfica host Tondela (1815) on Thursday.

The league is due to finish on July 26.

Although government rules ban people assembling outside stadiums, the Porto fan group known as “Super Dragons” have said they will follow their team to Wednesday’s game.

“If people respect social distancing, I don’t see a problem. It’s not forbidden to walk in the street,” Fernando Madureira, described as one of the group’s leaders, told the sports daily Record on Monday.

BUMPY ROAD

Overall, the path to restarting the championship has not been smooth, with a fair amount of bickering between clubs.

Despite a recommendation from the government’s DGS health directorate that as few venues be used as possible, all but two of the 18 teams — Azores-based Santa Clara and Lisbon-based Belenenses — are set to play in their own stadiums following arguments over who would play where.

The clubs also failed to agree using five substitutes per match — even though 10 rounds will be crammed into a 54-day period — and from showing matches on free-to-air television channels. Instead, games will be on the usual pay-TV channels.

To televise as many games as possible, each round of matches will be spread over four to six days with a rest day in between.

Some clubs are also now pressing for supporters to be allowed into games.

“When you can already see so many people on the beaches, in the mountains and in restaurants, I can’t accept that you can’t allow people in the stadiums,” said Maritimo president Carlos Pereira.

“We can ensure that fans are kept away and even provide them with disinfectants, masks and gloves. What team likes to play in an empty stadium?”

Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris

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