No fans, just masks, as football finally returns Chinese Football Association (CFA) President Chen Xuyuan

THE South Korean K League yesterday became the first major league in the world to restart as viewers around the globe got an idea of what football will look like in the coronavirus age.

The stands were empty, bar a few officials and the South Korea manager, all wearing masks.

On the benches the subs wore masks – club branded ones in the case of Jeonbuk Motors — and so did most of the coaches and the fourth official.

On the pitch there were no masks but handshakes were banned (although players did bump fists at the end) and players were not allowed to spit or talk at close proximity to each other.

The atmosphere was surreal with silence for most of the game — apart from the players’ shouting.

There was the occasional spell of crowd noise piped in (it was surprisingly genuine sounding) and the final whistle was met by deafening silence.

The game itself ended in a 1-0 win for champions Jeonbuk Motors over cup holders Suwon Bluewings.

Substitute Lee Dong-gook, 41, scored the only goal with a header.

There was also a red card and VAR check for a penalty not given.

With the Bundesliga returning next weekend and the Premier League hoping to be back next month, this was a valuable glimpse into what the new normal looks like.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Super League season could get underway next month with the country’s football association preparing various plans to complete the campaign delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The league was scheduled to start on February 22 but was pushed back because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 82 000 people in China, killing 4 633.

“Plan A is to finish the season with 30 rounds,” Chinese Football Association (CFA) President Chen Xuyuan was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

“We have a Plan B if the league were to kick off in late June and finish in December, and we have also designed Plan C for a later restart.

“If we carry out Plan B, we’ll only have four months because of the calendar of the national team and AFC Champions League… given that, we may divide the 16 teams into two groups and decide the champion and relegations through two phases.”

Chen said matches in the early part of the season would be played without fans in attendance and the governing body would then gradually allow them into venues.

The CFA also announced a proposal to allow all professional clubs to cut the salaries of players and coaches by up to 50% to overcome the financial impact of the pandemic.

The suggested cut would be backdated from March 1 until a week before the 2020 season begins, Xinhua reported

Zimbabwe international forward Nyasha Mushekwi, plays for Zhejiang Greentown, in the second-tier league in China.

He joined his teammates in training last month club after completing sometime in quarantine as life started to return to normalcy in the Asian country after it was shut down for months by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

The big striker returned to China on March 22 from South Africa and had to go undergo a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days before joining the rest of the players in training.

Mushekwi, who retired from international football after the 2019 AFCON finals in June, was in South Africa working on his fitness levels with some of his specialist coaches.

He was initially in Turkey with his teammates for a pre-season camp which was extended as authorities in China battled to contain the coronavirus.

Mushekwi’s club began its pre-season training from the beginning of January in Thailand and moved to Turkey at the end of the same month.

“Everything is good. Life is almost back in China so it’s quite a good thing. Everything else has been okay,” said Mushekwi.

“It is like normal life.

“I can go out buy my groceries and come back to my house but they are not encouraging people to move around so much, so you just have to limit yourself from doing anything much.

“I just relax at home, go to training and come back home unless if you really want to be out and buy some stuff.

“Besides, I stay close to the shops, so you don’t really have to travel for it’s just a walk away. But the good thing is that people are now living their normal lives.’’ — Sports Reporter/Reuters/BBC Sport

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