BERLIN — No fans, no hugging, no spitting.
The Bundesliga will be very different when it resumes Saturday following a two-month suspension caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
There will be no children to accompany players onto the field, no contact between rivals in the tunnel before games, no handshakes with the referee or match officials, substitutes will have to wear masks and sit apart, and even goals in the empty stadiums will be sombre affairs — players have been warned to keep their emotions in check.
Coaches will be permitted to remove their masks to shout instructions at their players – as long as they stay at least 1.5 metres (yards) away.
To compensate for the lack of atmosphere, Sky TV says it will offer viewers a new audio option with prerecorded fan chants, singing and reactions based on the games. Borussia Mönchengladbach will have artificial cutouts of real supporters in the stands for its remaining home matches.
Most fans don’t even want the league to resume — the latest polls from German broadcasters show a growing majority are against it — but soccer authorities were desperate to get back on track with several clubs, including Bundesliga club Schalke, already on the brink financially.
Chancellor Angela Merkel finally gave the go-ahead to restart the season on May 6 after taking note of Germany’s dropping rate in new infections for COVID-19, though she made it clear that soccer was low down on her list of priorities.
The last Bundesliga game was played on March 11 as the virus was beginning to take hold in Germany. Unaware, or perhaps indifferent to the danger, hundreds of Borussia Mönchengladbach fans gathered outside their closed stadium as their team defeated Cologne 2-1. Gladbach players even celebrated with supporters afterward in scenes that authorities are determined won’t be repeated.
“ We’re playing on probation,” league CEO Christian Seifert said.
Local authorities have the power to derail the clubs’ stated aim to finish the regular season by the end of June.
Second-division club Dynamo Dresden is undergoing 14 days of quarantine after two more players tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday, placing its participation in the league in doubt.
Efforts to restart the third division are being hampered because clubs like Carl Zeiss Jena, Magdeburg and Hallescher FC are not allowed to train. A spat has developed with the German soccer federation, which wanted the division to resume on May 26.
The country’s top clubs don’t face such issues.
With nine games of the season remaining, Bayern Munich plays at Union Berlin on Sunday with a four-point lead at the top of the standings.
Second-place Borussia Dortmund hosts Schalke for the Ruhr derby on Saturday. Third-place Leipzig, which is a point further behind, hosts Freiburg, and Gladbach, another point back, visits Frankfurt, also Saturday.
But there’s no guarantee that all nine remaining rounds will be played.
The league has put off a decision on what will happen if play is suspended again or the rest of the season is called off. The standings would most likely stand, with the top team named champion and the bottom two relegated.
Teams were preparing for the restart in quarantine conditions this week. Augsburg coach Heiko Herrlich was due to make his debut in charge against Wolfsburg on Saturday, but he will miss the game after breaking quarantine restrictions to buy toiletries. Herrlich will only return after twice testing negative for COVID-19.
More than 20,000 tests for the virus will be carried out on players, coaching staff and other team officials as part of the league’s hygiene plan to complete the season.
But that hasn’t stopped some from outlining concerns. Cologne midfielder Birger Verstraete criticized the club for its handing of three positive cases of the virus, and Union Berlin defender Neven Subotic said that it was a “precarious situation” for all the players.
“It is going to be impossible to come out of the league with positive remarks,” Subotic said in a BBC interview.
Karlsruher SC midfielder Marc Lorenz was even more critical, saying the league hadn’t considered players’ health “at all” in its rush to get back in action.
“The players will be exhausted after 60 minutes,” Lorenz told the Badische Neueste Nachrichten newspaper. “The five substitutions that were just decided won’t help there. Fatigue will come and then the serious injuries.”
The league is allowing five substitutions instead of the usual three to help teams following two months without play.
The second division is also resuming Saturday, albeit without quarantined last-place Dresden.
The Bundesliga is the first of the five major leagues in Europe to resume. The French league has been called off. Now the Premier League, Serie A and Spanish league will be watching closely to see how German authorities deal with the risk factors that could lead to another shutdown.
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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)