Bulgarian top tier resumes amid coronavirus rules violations

Soccer Football - Bulgarian Soccer League - Levski Sofia v Ludogorets - Georgi Asparuhov Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria - June 5, 2020 Levski Sofia fans react among cardboard cut outs in the stands, as play resumes following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

SOFIA (Reuters) - The Bulgarian league resumed on Friday after an almost three-month break due to the novel coronavirus pandemic with fans allowed at stadiums but many of them violated the rule for occupying every third seat in the stands.

On Tuesday Sports Minister Krasen Kralev issued an order, allowing spectators at stadiums if they took up no more than 30% of a given venue's capacity and with supporters sitting on every third seat.

TV footage, however, showed that at least several dozen fans failed to observe the rule in front of Kralev in the southern city of Plovdiv where second-placed Lokomotiv Plovdiv beat resilient Etar Veliko Tarnovo 2-0 in a slow-tempo encounter.

Congolese striker Dominique Malonga scored his first goal for Bulgarian Cup winners Lokomotiv after coming on in the second half and the hosts needed an own goal by Etar's Anton Ognyanov to put the game beyond doubt.

The sports ministry said in a statement issued after the final whistle that the match went ahead with fans observing the seats rule, adding that the stadium announcer called on all spectators to maintain their distance.

Тhere were also several seating violations during league leaders Ludogorets' 1-0 win at Levski Sofia, who slipped one place to fourth, as the Razgrad-based club took a big step towards winning their ninth consecutive title.

Brazilian midfielder Cauly Oliveira scored the only goal with thunderous long-range shot 20 seconds after the break.

The two games on Friday were held in unusual conditions as protective measures included pre-kickoff temperature checks for all players and spectators while teams were allowed to make up to five substitutions.

Before the league resumption, all 14 teams had to test their players and staff for COVID-19.

Ludogorets top the standings with 58 points, nine ahead of Lokomotiv Plovdiv. Sofia rivals CSKA, who have a game in hand, and Levski are both on 46.

In order to finish the season by mid-July, teams will play twice weekly with each round of matches spreading to four days due to TV coverage.

(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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