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Muscat gutted as FA ruling ends Olhanense’s promotion dream

What could have been a crucial meeting for the sake of Portuguese football, last Friday turned out to be another unfruitful day in what has now sparked into a national debate.

Zach Muscat’s SC Olhanense, alongside five other clubs namely Fafe, Lourosa, Praiense, Benfica de Castelo Branco and Real are all embroiled in a dispute against the Portugal FA after they were denied the chance to get promoted into the second-tier, despite finishing in the top two places in their groups.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Muscat’s Olhanense was leading Serie D on 57 points.

Portugal’s third-tier is composed of four groups with their top two teams competing in a play-off to determine the two teams promoted.

However, the Portugal FA decided to bring the leagues to a premature end and promote only Vizela and Arouca as the group leaders with the most points gained – Vizela had 60 points while Arouca 58.

On Friday, these clubs were set to meet Fernando Gomes, president of the Portuguese FA, but the latter did not show up and the six teams protesting decided to end the meeting after just a minute.

The unfair ruling by the Portuguese FA has triggered a bold reaction from Olhanense as their president, Luis Torres, said that should the decision not be reversed and reward his club, Olhanense would leave football permanently.

A potential exit from football for Olhanense would damage the reputation of Portuguese football, the current European champions.

Muscat’s club celebrated their 108th anniversary this year, making them one of the oldest clubs, and throughout the years they have won several championships in the lower divisions, making a name for themselves despite not being a powerhouse like Porto or Benfica.

Moreover, notable names have been part of the club including former Benfica and Sporting coach Jorge Jesus as a player in the 1974-75 season and former Inter, Lazio and current Porto manager Sergio Conceicao as coach between January 2012 and 2013.

“To be honest, I am trying not to make a lot of fuss about the decision because I don’t really think that it will be reversed,” Muscat told the Sunday Times of Malta.

“From all divisions in Portugal, we and Praiense are the only ones who finished top and were denied promotion into the next tier whereas the leaders in the other leagues were granted automatic access into the upper tier.

“The decision does not make sense because it does not reflect the strength of the competitions. In fact, the bottom side of our league had double the points of the bottom teams in Group A and B.”

Muscat’s league was initially set to resume, with the play-offs destined to be held in one venue. However, the Portuguese government decided to halt all football competitions except the top-tier and the Portuguese Cup final – even though there are 90 games left in Portugal’s Premier League while there were just six play-off games left in the third-tier.

“I understand that any decision taken has to adhere to the directives set by the health authorities,” he explained.

“But at the same time, it is not fair to cancel our sporting merits – as a team, we were doing so well and in fact until January, we had even more goals than Benfica and were drawing plaudits from the local media as well.

Future call

The former Birkirkara defender admitted that the decision was a huge blow for him given all the sacrifices he had made to stay at the club.

“On a personal level, I made a lot of sacrifices to remain here because I believed in their project and we were on track to reach our goal,” Muscat said.

“The current situation is obviously a heavy blow to me because I was having a promising season in Portugal.”

SC Olhanense fans put on a banner that said: “Justice for Olhanense”.

Asked about what could be his future, Muscat explained that while he awaits whether there will be any positive news from Olhanense’s case, he is in a position to evaluate other situations ahead of the next season.

“However, at the moment clubs may still not be in a position to think about the next campaign so from a personal note, it is more important to keep myself prepared and once everything gets back to normal, I hit the ground running immediately.”

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