Suspended 2nd-tier game in Spain ordered to be played

MADRID (AP) — In the latest twist in the never-ending saga that is the Spanish second division, the country’s soccer federation on Monday ruled the suspended match between Deportivo La Coruña and Fuenlabrada has to be played this week.

The Spanish league wanted to cancel the game after several Fuenlabrada players caught the coronavirus, but the federation competition committee said it must be played to decide the final qualification spot for the promotion playoffs.

Fuenlabrada needs at least a draw to grab the final playoff spot, which currently is held by Elche. Deportivo is already relegated and has only pride to play for in the game rescheduled for Wednesday.

“Justice has been done,” Fuenlabrada coach José Ramón Sandoval said. “We fought for the right to finish the competition on the field and that’s how it’s going to be finished. All we wanted was to be allowed to play this game.”

The final-round game was originally going to be played on July 20 but it was suspended after Fuenlabrada players tested positive for COVID-19 just hours before kickoff.

The league suspended only the game affected by the outbreak and not the entire final round, igniting complaints and threats of legal actions by other clubs that felt they were hurt by the decision.

The playoffs had been on hold since then as officials, local authorities and club directors exchanged accusations and made demands.

Elche on Monday maintained the integrity of the competition was affected and said it would continue to fight for its rights. It claimed it wouldn’t be fair for Fuenlabrada to face a Deportivo team with no interest left in the competition. There had already been reports that Deportivo’s players had not showed up for coronavirus tests scheduled by the league this week.

In a statement, Elche also noted the Spanish league declared Elche would be participating in the playoffs.

The league requested the Deportivo-Fuenlabrada match to be canceled after the number of Fuenlabrada team members who tested positive reached 28 about a week ago. The club said this week it still wanted to play the match and would have enough players available.

“These players earned the right to play, but a pandemic interfered,” Sandoval said. “It’s only fair that this game is played.”

The federation competition committee noted Deportivo was against playing Wednesday’s game. The 2000 Spanish league champion wanted next season’s second division to be played with 24 teams instead of 22, allowing it to avoid relegation.

Espanyol, relegated from the first division, said on Monday it wanted the league to eliminate demotion in all divisions because of the problems caused by pandemic.

“The financial impact of COVID-19 will continue into the 2020-21 season,” Espanyol said in a statement. “And with the added financial impact of relegation, this double punishment would be devastating and unfair.”

The Spanish federation last weekend suspended fourth-division matches after players in a team participating in the promotion playoffs tested positive for COVID-19.

The second-division promotion playoffs are now set to end on Aug. 23.

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