Champions League games postponed as COVID-19 hits world soccer

MANCHESTER, England — The deepening virus outbreak prompted the cancellation of Champions League soccer for the first time Thursday, with the high-profile match between Manchester City and Real Madrid one of two to be postponed. Juventus’ home match against Lyon — also scheduled for Tuesday — was called off, too, […]

MANCHESTER, England — The deepening virus outbreak prompted the cancellation of Champions League soccer for the first time Thursday, with the high-profile match between Manchester City and Real Madrid one of two to be postponed.

Juventus’ home match against Lyon — also scheduled for Tuesday — was called off, too, as the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on leagues and cup competitions around the world, from Spain to the Netherlands to the United States.

The Spanish league was brought to halt for at least the next two rounds, shortly after Real Madrid announced its players had been put in quarantine. That decision was taken because one of the club’s basketball players, who share facilities with Madrid’s soccer players, tested positive for the virus.

Hours later, UEFA said the City-Madrid game was postponed, with no new date arranged. City leads 2-1 from the first leg in Madrid.

At the same time, the Juventus match against Lyon was cancelled because it was confirmed on Wednesday that a player from the Italian team, Daniele Rugani, tested positive for COVID-19.

Rugani, who also plays for the Italian national team, was the first player in the country’s top soccer division to test positive for the disease. There was a second announced on Thursday — Sampdoria striker Manolo Gabbiadini.

“I’ve already received so very many messages. But I still want to reassure you that I’m fine, so don’t worry,” Gabbiadini, who was in self-isolation, wrote on Twitter.

The outbreak of the virus has led to a nationwide lockdown in Italy, where soccer and all other sports have been suspended until April 3.

It’s not known when the Champions League will resume. UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, has called stakeholders to a meeting by video conference on Tuesday to deal with the effect on competitions of the coronavirus outbreak.

“All domestic and European competitions,” including this year’s European Championship, will be discussed.

The World Health Organization labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, citing its alarming spread and severity. It has infected more then 125,000 people worldwide and caused more than 4,500 deaths since erupting in China.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Only one Premier League game has been affected so far amid the outbreak, with Manchester City’s home match against Arsenal on Wednesday called off. That decision was taken after members of Arsenal’s playing squad went into self-isolation in a precautionary move.

On Thursday, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said “a few” of his players have symptoms of coronavirus and were being kept away from the squad. Rodgers was speaking two days before Leicester plays Watford.

Chelsea underwent a deep clean of its training ground Thursday, meaning its players didn’t practice two days ahead of their Premier League game against Aston Villa. No Chelsea player has shown any symptoms of the virus.

Elsewhere, Dutch soccer authorities cancelled all matches until the end of the month, including friendly internationals against the United States and Spain, while Portugal shut down it’s league until further notice. The Belgian soccer league backpedaled on its decision to keep stadiums open to fans during the outbreak, saying the last round of regular-season matches in the top league scheduled for this weekend will be played in empty stadiums.

Major League Soccer in the United States was also shutting down for a 30-day period because of the virus.

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