Portugal's soccer league to investigate COVID-hit match

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Primeira Liga - Belenenses v Benfica - Estadio Nacional, Oeiras, Portugal - November 27, 2021 Referee Manuel Mota ends the match early after Belenenses started the match with 9 players due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the club and Joao Monteiro sustains an injury REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's soccer league said on Sunday it would start a disciplinary process to investigate if this weekend's match between Benfica and Belenenses SAD - a team hit by a COVID-19 outbreak - complied with health rules.

Saturday's game was abandoned minutes into the second half amid extraordinary scenes after Belenenses, which reported a total of 17 COVID-19 among players and staff, were forced to name a team of nine players - including two goalkeepers - as all others were isolating.

Benfica took advantage of their numerical superiority to rack up seven goals by halftime before Belenenses returned with only seven players for the second period.

The match was then called off after the break when a Belenenses goalkeeper playing in midfield sat down on the pitch unable to continue, forcing the referee to abandon the game which requires a minimum of seven players.

Shortly after the match, the Benfica and Belenenses presidents told a news conference they had no choice but to play the match or risked an "unjustified absence". They pointed a finger at the league for not allowing the game to be postponed.

One of the Belenenses players, defender Cafu Phete, tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Portugal last week from international duty in South Africa. Belenenes president Rui Pedro Soares said he was concerned the cases in the squad could be related to the new Omicron variant.

No cases from the new COVID-19 variant have been reported in Portugal so far.

Responding to the accusations, the Portuguese football league told Lusa news agency they did not receive a formal request to postpone the match.

In a statement, the league said it would open an investigation to determine responsibility, particularly "related to the compliance with sanitary protocols". Its board of directors will hold discussions on Monday.

The league also called emergency meetings with the government and health authority DGS to obtain information on the COVID-19 protocol in place.

Without providing further details, DGS said it does not comment on the football matches. A DGS spokesperson told Reuters it was not up to the health authority to postpone it but to assess the COVID-19 situation and implement measures, such as self-isolation, to stop the spread.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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