Hosting Portuguese giants Benfica was always going to be a tall order for Belenenses on Saturday, but the Primeira Division club’s challenge became much more daunting as they kicked off with just nine men on the field.
A spate of coronavirus cases decimated the Belenenses squad in the build-up to the match.
They were severely weakened for Saturday’s clash, even picking a reserve goalkeeper to fill in as an outfielder before forcing an early end to the match just after half-time.
Why did Belenenses play with nine?
The club’s woes began in the week, when one of their players who had shown symptoms related to COVID-19 tested positive for the virus.
Further tests threw up a total of 17 cases, 13 among the players and four more in the team’s coaching staff.
The game nevertheless went ahead, despite the outrage of several Belenenses players who released a joint statement on social media.
O futebol só tem cor se tiver competição.
O futebol só tem cor se tiver verdade desportiva.
O futebol só tem cor quando é um exemplo de saúde pública.
Hoje, o futebol perdeu a cor. pic.twitter.com/ujjv5H5Ffp
— Afonso Sousa (@afonso_sousa10) November 27, 2021
“Football only has heart if it is competitive. Football only has heart if it is really sporting,” the message read.
“Football only has heart when it is an example of public health. Today, football lost its heart.”
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A predictable outcome
Unsurprisingly, with a two-man advantage and with Under-23 keeper Joao Monteiro playing as an outfielder, Benfica made short work of their rivals.
Eduardo Kau gifted the visitors the lead within the first minute by putting past his own keeper, while Haris Seferovic doubled the advantage 13 minutes in.
Belenenses kicked off their game against Benfica with just nine players, two of which are goalkeepers 😳
The Portuguese club had 17 players and staff test positive for coronavirus. https://t.co/vQL3MAqimD
— GOAL (@goal) November 27, 2021
By halftime, Benfica had already run up a 7-0 advantage and at the start of the second half Belenenses decided to bring proceedings to a halt.
Three home players were taken off in order to leave six remaining on the field, thereby inducing a walkover victory for Benfica.
Why was the game not suspended?
Manchester City star Bernardo Silva was watching and, like many other observers, could not believe the game went ahead.
“What is this? Am I the only one who doesn’t get why the game wasn’t postponed?” the midfielder pondered on Twitter.
O que é isto? Sou o único a não perceber o porquê do jogo não ter sido adiado? 🤦🏻♂️
— Bernardo Silva (@BernardoCSilva) November 27, 2021
Before the game, though, Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares insisted that his team had not requested a suspension and were in a proper condition to play.
“We have 38 players registered and we trust them all,” he said. “Therefore the decision is up to health authorities.
“We will wait and we are going to respect their decision.”
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FIFA regulations do permit a team to take the field with a minimum of seven players, although if they go below that number the match will be abandoned and a walkover victory awarded to the opponent, which is indeed what occurred early in the second half.
That also happened to Ecuador’s Aucas, who in similar circumstances kicked off a game in April against Barcelona with seven men, with the encounter called off during the first half and the latter awarded a 3-0 win.