KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The northern Portuguese city of Porto will play host at short notice to the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Manchester City on May 29 instead of Turkey’s Istanbul.
European federation UEFA took the decision after three days of talks with the Portuguese abnd UK governments and relevant football federations over moving the game after Turkey was put on England’s red travel list meaning fans cannot travel.
Portugal is on the UK’s so-called ‘green list’ so 6,000 fans from each club will be allowed to attend the clash in the Estadio Dragao. Ironically fans are currently barred from attending domestic Portuguese matches.
European football’s governing body believed a venue in Portugal would be less of an access problem for officials than the alternative option of Wembley as well as for the sponsors and broadcasters who would seek compensation if unable to attend.
Travellers from England to green-list countries do not have to quarantine on their return.
UK citizens returning from red-list countries are required to quarantine at a government-approved hotel for 10 days. Such a quarantine would have an impact on players involved in Euro 2020, which starts on June 11.
A precedent for shifting the final was established last year after the Covid-19 pandemic shut down football for three months and Lisbon staged the European club showpiece.
Istanbul should have played host in 2020 and was pushed back a year with the scheduled 2021 venue St Petersburg also delayed.
A similar pushback is expected this time although Turkish authorities may prefer to skip a year and target 2023 which would be the centenary of the creation of the modern Turkish state.
UEFA expects to make 6,000 tickets available for fans of both clubs.
The UEFA Champions League final between Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC will be held at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto on 29 May 2021, kick off 2100 CEST, following an offer to stage the game by the Portuguese FA (FPF) and the Portuguese authorities.
The final was originally scheduled to take place at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul but, following the UK government’s decision to place Turkey on its red list of COVID-19 travel destinations, staging the final there would have meant none of the clubs’ domestic fans would be able to travel to the game. After a year of fans being locked out of stadiums, UEFA thought that everything needed to be done to ensure the supporters of the two finalist teams could attend.
UEFA discussed moving the match to England but, despite exhaustive efforts on the part of the Football Association and the authorities, it was not possible to achieve the necessary exemptions from UK quarantine arrangements.
The Portuguese authorities and the FPF stepped in and worked quickly and seamlessly with UEFA to offer a fitting venue for the final and, as Portugal is a green list destination for England, fans and players attending the final will not have to quarantine on their return home. T
he decision does not come without big regret for the work that the Turkish football authorities have done over the last two years to ensure the successful staging of the final in Istanbul. UEFA is grateful also for their continued partnership and cooperative spirit as well as the understanding they showed in this particular circumstance and will urgently look into future opportunities for the city of Istanbul. T
he stadium capacity for the match will be finalised and confirmed in due course in cooperation with the Portuguese authorities and the FPF. However, fans of the competing teams will be able to buy tickets through the clubs in the usual way, with the 6,000 tickets per club going on sale as soon as possible from today. Arrangements for the sale of tickets to the general public will start on 24 May 2021 at 1400 CEST.
The number of fans from each team who will be able to attend is the same as was planned in Istanbul.
Announcing the decision, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin said: “I think we can all agree that we hope never to experience a year like the one we have just endured.
“Fans have had to suffer more than twelve months without the ability to see their teams live and reaching a Champions League final is the pinnacle of club football. To deprive those supporters of the chance to see the match in person was not an option and I am delighted that this compromise has been found.
“After the year that fans have endured, it is not right that they don’t have the chance to watch their teams in the biggest game of the season. “Once again we have turned to our friends in Portugal to help both UEFA and the Champions League and I am, as always, very grateful to the FPF and the Portuguese Government for agreeing to stage the match at such short notice.
“They have worked tirelessly in very tight time constraints in finding solutions for the many challenges that hosting a game of this magnitude presents. Whenever there has been an obstacle, they have been creative in the solutions presented and the success of staging this year’s final is entirely down to their hard work and persistence.
“We accept that the decision of the British Government to place Turkey on the red list for travel was taken in good faith and in the best interests of protecting its citizens from the spread of the virus but it also presented us with a major challenge in staging a final featuring two English teams.
“The difficulties of moving the final are great and the FA and the authorities made every effort to try to stage the match in England and I would like to thank them for their work in trying to make it happen.
“The Turkish football federation and the Turkish authorities have recognised the UEFA’s efforts to give fans of the competing clubs a chance to watch the game. The Turkish Football Federation and the authorities have always been reliable partners of UEFA and Turkey has hosted many UEFA events over the years with great success. I hope to be in Istanbul and Turkey for a Champions League final and many other events in the near future.
“I hope the final will be a symbol of hope at the re-emergence of Europe from a difficult period and that the fans who travel to the game will once again be able to lend their voices to showcase this final as the best in club football.”
** UEFA has appointed Spain’s Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz to referee the Champions League final and France’s Clément Turpin for the Europa League final.