BERLIN (AP) – Germany’s Bundesliga soccer season resumed Saturday after a two-month break caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Borussia Dortmund defeated Schalke 4-0 in the first Ruhr derby to be played in an empty stadium. All the games began amid strict hygiene measures. Calls and shouts from coaching staff and players, and the thud of the ball being kicked, reverberated around the mainly deserted stands.
Erling Haaland scored the league’s first goal since the enforced break. The 19-year-old celebrated with a restrained dance while his teammates stayed well away.
Players had been warned to keep their emotions in check, and to desist from spitting, handshakes and hugging.
Julian Brandt set up Raphaël Guerreiro for the second goal before the break and Thorgan Hazard for the third after it. Hazard celebrated alone in front of Dortmund’s south terrace, where normally the club’s “Yellow Wall” of almost 25,000 fervent fans would be standing.
Haaland created the fourth by Guerreiro as Dortmund cut the gap on leader Bayern Munich to a point. Bayern is due to play at Union Berlin on Sunday.
Team staff, and players who didn’t start, wore masks. Substitutes took their positions in the stands, rather than beside the fields as customary, while balls and seats were disinfected.
Pre-game television interviews were conducted with long poles holding microphones and participants keeping their distance.
“It’s quite surreal,” Dortmund chief executive Hans Joachim Watzke told Sky TV. “I’ve received messages from all over the world in the last couple of hours that everybody is watching and then you go through the city and there’s nothing going on.”
Also, Hertha Berlin won 3-0 at Hoffenheim in coach Bruno Labbadia’s first game in charge, Freiburg drew at Leipzig 1-1, Paderborn drew at Fortuna Düsseldorf 0-0, and Wolfsburg won 2-1 at Augsburg.
Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich was forced to watch from the stands after breaking strict quarantine conditions to buy toiletries. He will only return after twice testing negative for the virus.
They were the first games to be played in the league since March 11.
Earlier Saturday, the second division resumed with four games, also without fans present and amid strict distancing measures.
South Korea midfielder Lee Jae-sung scored the division’s first goal for Holstein Kiel in a 2-2 draw at Jahn Regensburg. He celebrated by giving teammates fist bumps.
Goal celebrations in other games were also marked by fist bumps and elbow-to-elbow touching.
The game’s authorities were keen to restart the country’s top two divisions with several clubs, including Schalke, facing severe financial difficulties because of the suspension in play.
Numerous polls showed a growing majority in Germany were against the resumption of the leagues. Fans are also critical of games without supporters present.
“Soccer without fans is nothing,” read a joint statement from several Bayern fan groups after the league decided on May 7 to resume.
Cologne fans accused authorities Saturday of prioritizing money over people’s health, while a banner at the Augsburg game said, “Soccer will survive, your business is sick!”
There was criticism too from players.
Karlsruher SC midfielder Marc Lorenz told the Badische Neueste Nachrichten newspaper that the league hadn’t considered the health of the players “at all” in its rush to get back. He warned of fatigue leading to serious injuries.
American youngster Gio Reyna was named in Dortmund’s starting lineup for the first time but was then injured in the warmup.
Teams in both divisions are allowed five substitutions instead of the usual three to help cope after two months without play.
Players and staff have been subjected to regular testing for COVID-19. There were three cases found at Cologne, while second-division Dynamo Dresden was ordered into 14 days of quarantine after two more cases brought its total to three last Saturday. Dresden’s game against Hannover on Sunday was called off, and the team cannot train during the quarantine period.