Borussia Dortmund players celebrate after the match against Schalke 04, as play resumed behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, May 16, 2020. (Reuters)
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DORTMUND – The Bundesliga is the first major soccer league to return to action since the virus earlier this year shut down sports, and its return in a country that still has hundreds of positive virus cases a day is being closely watched by other leagues.
With a strict health protocol governing the fragile restart, which includes no fans, face masks for everyone but the players, no handshakes and no group celebrations, it was up to title hopefuls Dortmund, who host leaders Bayern Munich in ten days’ time, to find a spark badly missing in the eerily empty ground.
The Ruhr valley club, in second place, scored the first goal of the matchday after nearly half an hour when teenager Erling Haaland connected with a Thorgan Hazard cutback.
The exciting 19-year-old Norway striker, who knocked in his 13th goal in 12 appearances for Dortmund in all competitions, picked up exactly where he left off in March.
He is already at the top of the transfer wish list of every major European club and, with an expected television audience of a billion for the Bundesliga this weekend, his immediate return to scoring will have enhanced his already stellar reputation.
Portuguese midfielder Raphael Guerreiro added two more goals and Belgium international Hazard also got on the scoresheet as Dortmund climbed to 54 points, one behind defending champions Bayern, who are in action at Union Berlin on Sunday.
“I’d have preferred if the conditions were normal,” Dortmund midfielder Julian Brandt said. “We all have to adapt and try to have fun under the circumstances. We did that pretty well today and what better way to restart the league than with a win.”
When Schalke brought on Timo Becker to replace Jonjoe Kenny in the 87th minute at the 80 000 plus-capacity Signal Iduna Park, it was the first time in Bundesliga history a team had made five substitutions after FIFA announced the temporary rule change.
Goal celebrations around the Bundesliga on Saturday were limited to smiles, thumbs-up and the occasional fist or elbow bump as mask-wearing substitutes, dispersed in the stands to keep them apart, applauded from the sidelines.
Only Hertha Berlin’s players violated the rules when they celebrated their goals in the usual way as a group during a 3-0 win at Hoffenheim that earned coach Bruno Labbadia a winning debut on their bench. (Reuters)