Soccer clubs and fans all over Europe have been on high alert this weekend as domestic leagues resumed following a one-week break during which terrorist targets in Paris included the Stade de France, where France and Germany were playing a friendly.
All European league matches were scheduled to go on, just days after friendly matches in Germany and Belgium were canceled in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But fans are finding much tighter security measures.
The weekend’s most high-profile matchup was El Clasico, the annual showdown between Spanish rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. A crowd of 81,000 was expected at Madrid’s Santiago Bernebeu Stadium on Saturday, and security was heightened to the level of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
According to the newspaper Marca, at least 1,000 national police officers were deployed, as well as 1,400 private security officers hired by host Real Madrid.
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“We are on anti-terrorist alert 4 [5 means a very high risk], and there will be extensive security so as to guarantee that the match takes place with complete normality,” Francisco Martinez, Spain’s secretary of state for security, said earlier in the week.
The Spaniards have some history with terrorism in sport. In May 2002, a bomb from Basque separatist group ETA exploded near the Bernebeu hours before a Champions League semifinal against Barcelona. Seventeen people were injured.
In 2004, the stadium was evacuated because of a bomb threat during a Real Madrid match against Real Sociedad.
There were no major matches scheduled in Paris, as Paris St. Germain played an away match, but other stadiums in France were being heavily guarded. Ligue 1 officials ruled that no visiting fans would be allowed to travel to games this weekend as a precaution, but that the games would go on as scheduled.
Junior sports minister Thierry Braillard said: “Sporting competitions must continue because if we suspend them, that is what these barbaric people want, which is to destabilize our daily way of life.”
The English Premier League held special meetings with local police forces in recent days and vowed to have stricter entry guidelines at stadiums.
In Belgium, new security measures include a ban on bags. Stadium grounds also opened earlier than usual to allow for more security at the entry gates.
“After contact with a member of authorized federal government to inform us about safety, I confirmed the decision to maintain our schedule. We must not change our way of life,” Pierre François, the league’s general director, said.
The German Bundesliga also implemented more strict security, and all Bundesliga players are wearing black armbands in memory of the Paris victims.
▪ MLS conference finals: Four Major League Soccer teams are still standing in the 2015 playoffs. The conference finals get under way with the first legs Sunday. In the East, the Columbus Crew plays the New York Red Bulls (5 p.m., ESPN). In the West, it’s FC Dallas against the Portland Timbers (7:30 p.m., FS1).
Top-seeded New York advanced with a 2-0 aggregate victory over D.C. United. Columbus finished seven points behind the Red Bulls in the regular season and lost twice to New York in their three meetings. But the Crew stormed into the conference finals with an extra-time win over Montreal. The Crew is led by Kei Kamera, who scored 22 goals this season.
In the West, the five-time MLS champion L.A. Galaxy and high-profile Seattle Sounders were eliminated, leaving Portland and Dallas to duke it out. Dallas coach Oscar Pareja is deserving of the MLS Coach of the Year award after leading his young, unheralded squad to the final four. The average age on the Dallas roster is 24.5.
Pareja will be coaching with a heavy heart, as his mother, Martha, died in Colombia on Thursday. He flew there to be with family and was scheduled to fly to Portland on Saturday.
Portland is led by rising U.S. midfielder Darlington Nagbe, and the back line of Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell, Jorge Villafana and 21-year-old Jamaican Alvas Powell.
▪ Teen Sensation: One of the most intriguing stories in the Italian Serie A this season has been the emergence of 16-year-old AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. Yes, you read right. He is 16. That is not a typo.
The kid is nicknamed “The New Buffon,’’ after Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon, 37, who played against Donnarumma on Saturday in a clash of generations. Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper ever to start a Serie A match when he made his debut Oct. 25. He was brought in to replace Diego Lopez, who struggled as Milan had no clean sheets in the first eight matches.
The 6-5 Donnarumma has played four matches and recorded two shutouts. He plays for the Italian U-21 team, and was wooed by Juventus, Roma, Fiorentina and Udinese. His older brother, Antonio, is the keeper at Genoa.
EPL: Manchester City and Arsenal (26), Leicester City (25), Manchester United (24), West Ham and Tottenham (21)
La Liga: Barcelona (27), Real Madrid (24), Atletico Madrid (23), Celta Vigo (21), Villarreal (20)
Serie A: Fiorentina and Inter (27), Roma (26), Napoli (25), Sassuolo (22)
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (34), Dortmund (29), Wolfsburg (21), Hertha Berlin and Schalke (20)
Ligue 1: PSG (35), Lyon (25), Caen (24), Angers and ASSE (22)
On the tube
Sunday: Fiorentina vs. Empoli (9 a.m., BeINSport USA), Rennes vs. Bordeaux (11 a.m., BeINSport USA), Tottenham vs. West Ham (11 a.m., NBCSN), Toluca vs. Monterrey (1 p.m., Univision), MLS Conference Finals Columbus vs. NY Red Bulls (5 p.m., ESPN), Portland vs. Dallas (7:30 p.m., FS1).