Sports and pandemics don’t mix well – this is what 2020 has taught us the hard way. “Game Zero”, a UEFA Champions League match between Italy’s Atalanta and Spain’s Valencia held in Milan on February 19 has caused tens of thousands of fans to be infected, becoming the first true “superspreader” of the year, and ultimately led to the shutdown of sports across Europe.
Soccer fans suddenly went from watching exciting matches to playing Football Star at Jackpot City Casino, with no clear end in sight – at one point, it was doubtful if sports even return this year. But things improved, and soccer returned, albeit without the fans having access to the stands. So much so that most soccer powerhouses – with the exception of France – resumed their seasons, gave out their trophies, and supplied the Champions League with high-profile competitors.
After a series of eventful qualifiers, the tournament’s group stage has begun – and it came with quite a few surprises.
Real Madrid loses to Shakhtar Donetsk
Shakhtar was the absolute underdog of the team’s Champions League meet-up with Real Madrid. Not only did it play away from home, it also started without 13 first-team players, including 10 starters, after 19 club members tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The team had to call up players from the youth team. This, apparently, was a great decision.
By the half time, the Ukrainian team led Real 3-0. Modric and Vinicius Junior managed to improve the situation after the break, each of them scoring once. A third goal scored by the Spanish team was invalidated by the VAR for offside, so the match ended with a surprise win for the Ukrainian side. And a humiliating defeat for Real.
Apparently, Zidane decided to rest some players in preparation for the team’s upcoming clash with Barcelona in the latest iteration of the El Clásico derby. The decision cost Real valuable points – and a serious drop in reputation.
Bayern Munich humiliates Atlético
The first matchday of the Champions League group stage was bad for Madrid teams. Not only did Real suffer a defeat from Ukraine’s Shakhtar, Atlético Madrid was also beaten by its opponent. But this time, the one throwing the punches was Bundesliga and defending Champions League champion Bayern Munich.
Bayern stepped into the field with 11 Champions League wins under its belt – and this was its 12th in a row. Not only did the German team beat Atlético, they humiliated them, finishing the match with a score of 4-0.
The second matchday of the Champions League group stage is around the corner. There are quite a few interesting matches ahead of us – but only if everything goes well, and Europe doesn’t descend into another all-encompassing lockdown.