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soccer notebook

Coronavirus shutdowns having a domino effect in soccer world

With no fans looking on in Mexico City, keeper Jesus Corona of Cruz Azul stops a penalty shot by Victor Aguilera of America Sunday.
With no fans looking on in Mexico City, keeper Jesus Corona of Cruz Azul stops a penalty shot by Victor Aguilera of America Sunday.Hector Vivas/Getty

Soccer has put on the brakes in most of the world but has not come to a total halt. Turkey has defied convention — as well as common sense and science — by continuing to play on despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Argentina and Brazil grudgingly concluded things, thanks to clubs such as River Plate, which defied league orders by refusing to open its stadium, and Gremio, whose players walked onto the field wearing protective masks.

Mexico wound down with an impressive crowd of 22,289 for the Liga MX Feminil matchup between the UNAM and Cruz Azul women’s teams at Estadio Olimpico Universitario Friday, then conducted games behind closed doors Saturday and Sunday.

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European leagues plan to return to action next month, hoping to complete their seasons in the summer. If so, they will not collide with the European Championship, which will now be Euro 2021, to be played June 11-July 11, 2021, or Copa America, also put off for a year.

There will be several domino effects of delays and failure to complete league seasons. In England, Liverpool was close to clinching its first championship since 1990, and there is sentiment to concede the Reds the title, even if the season is not finished.

But there are dozens of other questions related to team placements, all with major financial implications: promotion and relegation; qualifying for tournaments; player payments; broadcast obligations.

The Premier League is considering a proposal to play out the final 92 games of the season in neutral stadiums in the Midlands, with spectators excluded, solely for television.

The Champions League final has been set at Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul June 27. The idea is for league seasons to conclude before that, and there is an extra incentive since many player contracts run through June 30.

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Pieces put together

Turkey’s Super Lig plans to conduct games behind closed doors, as Fenerbahce plays host to Kayserispor Friday.

Trabzonspor (15-3-8, 53 points) likely is reluctant to call things off, as it stands in first place and could have a chance to win the league for the first time since 1984.

Trabzonspor has emphasized experience over youth. The club has loaned or sold off players such as Yusuf Yazic (Lille), former FC Dallas winger Fabian Castillo, and Matias Kranevitter; and contracted veterans Demba Ba, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Gokhan Inler, Badou Ndiaye, Joao Pereira, Robinho, Martin Skrtel, and captain Jose Sosa.

A key addition has been Brazilian winger Guilherme; the team has gone 8-0-3 since he arrived from Yeni Malatyaspor last month. Guilherme, 28, had been offered to MLS after playing for Benevento in Serie A in 2018.

Trabzonspor has succeeded despite the controversial departure of former Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge, who had his contract terminated after being suspended following a charge of illegal wagering by England’s Football Association.

Trabzonspor midfielder John Obi Mikel departed this week after criticizing the league for continuing to play. Mikel’s Instagram post read: “There is more to life than football. … Everyone should be home with their families and loved ones in this critical time. Season should be cancelled as the world is facing such turbulent times.”

Zenit out in front

Russia’s Premier Liga staged a complete schedule of matches last weekend. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena was packed for a 7-1 win over Ural Yekaterniburg Saturday, supporters anticipating a second successive title.

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This week, Russia announced postponements until April 4, with Zenit (15-2-5, 50 points) holding a 9-point lead over Krasnodar (11-3-8, 41) and Lokomotiv Moscow (12-5-5, 41).

Zenit coach Sergey Semak, whose staff includes former Sporting Kansas City forward Igor Simuntenkov, is also going with veterans such as ex-Chelsea defenders Branislav Ivanovic, the team captain, and Yuri Zhirkov, both 36.

But Zenit is not disregarding youth. Brazilian winger Malcom, 23, was purchased on a $44 million transfer from Barcelona and striker Daniil Shamkin, 17, made his debut as a late substitute against Ural.

A Leon standout

Cruz Azul concluded the Liga MX Clausura in first place after a 1-0 win over Club America in an empty Estadio Azteca, Jesus Corona saving a 96th-minute penalty kick Sunday night. The Cementeros (7-2-1, 22 points) ended ahead of Club Leon FC (7-3-0, 21 points). In the last two games, Leon FC, nicknamed La Fiera (Wild Beasts), unveiled a prospect in forward Armando Leon. Leon was conspicuous partly because his jersey sported a three-digit number — 201 — and the fact that, at 6 feet 3 inches, he stands nearly a foot taller than teammates such as captain Chapito Montes. Leon, from Ensenada in Baja California, also stood out as he combined tactical sense with a physical presence and stamina. He scored in his debut, a 4-1 win over Juarez March 9, finishing a pass from former Arsenal midfielder Joel Campbell. Leon, who totaled 15 goals in 28 games for Mineros de Zacatecas in the Liga Premier last year, was not listed on La Fiera’s first-team roster until this month. Leon, 20, is the team’s youngest player and he helps fulfill Liga MX’s regla de menores, requiring teams to use players born in 1999 or later for 1,000 minutes during the season

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