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Belenenses against Benfica ended early after hosts start with nine players due to COVID-19

A Primeira Liga game between Belenenses and Benfica was called off in the second half on Saturday after Belenenses started with only nine players, including two goalkeepers, after being decimated by an outbreak of Covid-19.

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

The game was called off by the referee Manuel Mota three minutes into the second half, after three injuries meant Belenenses were reduced to six players.

“It was a disgrace to play here tonight,” said Belenenses president Rui Pedro Soares, applauding “the players who were forced to play”.

Reports in Portugal claimed Belenenses were without 14 players due to Covid, as well as several 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.

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.

“It’s a dark chapter for Portuguese football,” said Benfica president Rui Costa, adding that his club “just like Belenenses were obliged to play” to respect the rules.

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

The decision to go ahead with the fixture drew widespread criticism, with Belenenses midfielder Afonso Sousa, one of the absent players, writing on Twitter: “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.”

The same message was posted by several of Sousa’s teammates. 

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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