Portuguese league discuss 'disgrace' after team starts with nine men

An injury to goalkeeper Joao Monteiro, who was playing outfield for Belenenses, forced the game with Benfica to be stopped after the home team was left with just six men

An injury to goalkeeper Joao Monteiro, who was playing outfield for Belenenses, forced the game with Benfica to be stopped after the home team was left with just six men Creator: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Portuguese league officials met on Sunday to discuss the farcical game between Belenenses and Benfica, which had to be called off in the second half after Belenenses started with only nine players, including two goalkeepers, due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

Belenenses played one of their goalkeepers, Joao Monteiro, as an outfield player and had no substitutes at the Estadio Nacional where Benfica strolled into a 7-0 lead before half-time on Saturday.

The Primeira Liga game was called off by referee Manuel Mota three minutes into the second half, after Belenenses were reduced to six players. They had emerged after half-time with only seven players before Monteiro went down injured.

According to reports in Portugal, Primeira Liga officials met on Sunday morning to discuss the controversial fixture and whether any disciplinary action sohuld be taken against Belenenses. 

The Portuguese health ministry also issued a statement on Sunday, saying "it does not comment on the holding of games, whether in football or any other sport". 

Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares said on Saturday the game was a "disgrace" and criticised the league for effectively forcing the club to play, under threat of being deducted points. 

"What happened today was a great shame, there is nothing to justify what happened," he said. "Never in my life have I witnessed such dignified behaviour as from those nine players."

After informing the league "that we didn't wish to play the match, we were told we had eight players able to play" and "not turning up could be considered an unjustified absence", said the Belenenses president.

Benfica president Rui Costa described it as a "black page for Portuguese football" but insisted "Benfica simply complied with the regulations" and were "not responsible" for the match being played.

Reports in Portugal claimed Belenenses were without 14 players due to Covid, as well as three members of staff.

Belenenses coach Filipe Candido had indicated on Saturday that he would have to promote some under-23 players due to injuries and suspensions.

Supporters in the stadium chanted: "The league is a disgrace."

The decision to go ahead with the fixture also drew criticism from players, with the Belenenses team posting a joint message on Twitter that read: "Football only has colour if it has competition. Football only has colour if it has sporting truth. Football only has colour when it is an example of public health. Today, football has lost its colour."

Manchester City's Portuguese midfielder Bernardo Silva wrote: "What is this? Am I the only one who doesn't understand why the game hasn't been postponed?"

Belenenses sat 16th in the Primeira Liga at the start of the game while Benfica were third.

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