Football: Portuguese giants bicker over virus handling as Benfica announce 17 cases

LISBON (AFP) – A dispute has broken out between two of Portuguese football’s big guns over the handling of coronavirus cases as Benfica reported a raft of positive tests on Tuesday (Jan 19), including Jan Vertonghen and Gian-Luca Waldschmidt.

Belgium defender Vertonghen and German international forward Waldschmidt were among five players Benfica said were among 17 new cases, which also included club president Luis Filipe Vieira.

Benfica said they were waiting for Portugal’s Directorate-General of Health (DGS) to decide whether to cancel all matches scheduled for the next two weeks, with Jorge Jesus’ side due to face Braga in a League Cup semi-final on Wednesday.

The DGS replied that it would decide on measures to isolate players who tested positive or were considered contact cases, but that the fate of the rest of the squad was the responsibility of the clubs.

Braga said they were “outraged” at two-time European champions Benfica’s attempt to seek “special treatment”.

In the first League Cup semi-final on Tuesday, the country’s other two biggest clubs – Porto and Sporting Lisbon – met in Leiria with Sporting claiming a 2-1 win.

But the pair have also squared up off the field over virus cases.

On Monday, Porto accused their opponents of “an attack on public health” after Sporting said they intended to field two players, Nuno Mendes and Andraz Sporar, who had tested positive four days earlier.

Porto said Sporting were guilty of “a public crime, unacceptable at a time when Portugal is the world leader in the number of new cases of Covid-19” per million inhabitants.

Porto said they had contacted the Primeira Liga, the DGS and the association of doctors. They said that they expected the authorities to “enforce the law, otherwise the club will have to rethink the participation in the final four of the League Cup, for the defence of all players.”

Sporting reacted by accusing Porto of exerting “unacceptable” pressure on these bodies and reaffirming that these two cases were “in all likelihood false positives”. However, they did not field Mendes or Sporar on Tuesday.

The Covid-19 pandemic has reached record levels in Portugal over the last week and the government imposed a second lockdown last Friday.

This does not include a suspension of professional football competitions, as was the case last spring, but matches continue to be played behind closed doors.

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