Norwegian sensation Erling Braut Haaland stole the limelight Saturday as the German Bundesliga became the first major European football league to return since the coronavirus lockdown, with teams playing in empty, echoing stadiums.
The 19-year-old striker claimed the first goal in Germany’s top flight for over two months to set Borussia Dortmund on the way to a 4-0 win over local rivals Schalke.
“There was no noise. You shoot at the goal, make a top pass, score a goal, and nothing happens,” said Dortmund coach Lucien Favre.
“That’s very, very strange. We really missed our fans.
“It’s hard to judge how good the game was, but the players were very focused.”
Winger Raphael Guerreiro added two goals for Dortmund either side of a Thorgan Hazard strike.
Second-placed Dortmund moved to within a point of leaders Bayern Munich, who are chasing an eighth straight title and play Union Berlin away on Sunday.
Haaland steered a low Hazard cross into the far corner on 29 minutes to claim his 10th goal in just nine Bundesliga matches.
It was his 41st goal this season in all competitions and his 13th for Dortmund in just 12 games since joining in January from Red Bull Salzburg.
– Social distancing –
Haaland celebrated by dancing alone — making no contact with team-mates, who clapped him on — to comply with the strict hygiene guidelines which allowed the league to return.
All matches are being played behind closed doors, with no more than 300 people permitted inside stadiums.
Normally, Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park would be packed with more than 80,000 fans for the Ruhr derby, one of the biggest fixtures in German football.
After Haaland’s opener, an error by Schalke goalkeeper Markus Schubert led to Guerreiro making it 2-0 before half-time.
Haaland then played a role in the build-up to the third goal before Julian Brandt set up Hazard to fire home on 48 minutes.
Guerreiro grabbed his second in style after a one-two with Haaland in the 63rd minute.
Borussia Moenchengladbach climbed to third with a 3-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt after scoring goals through Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram in the opening seven minutes.
Algeria defender Ramy Bensebaini converted a second-half penalty for Gladbach before replacement midfielder Andre Silva grabbed Frankfurt’s late consolation goal.
Gladbach are three points behind leaders Bayern.
RB Leipzig dropped to fourth after being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Freiburg.
Defender Manuel Gulde gave visitors Freiburg a shock lead and celebrated by elbow-bumping teammates, before Leipzig striker Yussuf Poulsen grabbed a late equaliser.
Freiburg were then denied a stoppage-time winner when a VAR check spotted an offside.
Bruno Labbadia, who was named as Jurgen Klinsmann’s replacement during the lockdown, made a winning start as Hertha Berlin coach with a 3-0 success at Hoffenheim.
The goals came in quick succession with a Kevin Akpoguma own-goal being followed by Hertha captain Vedad Ibisevic grabbing a second. Brazilian Matheus Cunha then made it 3-0.
– Contact ‘part of football’ –
In contrast to elsewhere, Hertha players celebrated their goals by hugging each other, flouting the league’s hygiene guidelines, but Labbadia defended his team.
“The fact is that this is part of football, he said. “We’ve been tested so many times that we can allow it.
“If you can’t celebrate anymore, the whole thing breaks down. I’m just glad that the team had reason to cheer today.”
A German Football League (DFL) spokesman confirmed there will be no punishment, as it had only offered “guidelines” on how goals should be celebrated.
In order to obtain the political green light to resume this weekend, the DFL has tested players and coaches regularly for the virus and teams have been in quarantine for the past week.
Teams arrived at stadiums in several buses in order to meet social distancing requirements inside vehicles.
Although Germany has suffered far fewer deaths from coronavirus than other large European countries, it is still too dangerous for crowds to return.
– Global interest –
The DFL has made no secret of the fact that several clubs are in a dire financial situation as a result of the lockdown.
If they are able to complete the nine remaining rounds of matches by June 30, clubs could receive around 300 million euros ($324 million) from television contracts.
Clubs in England, Spain and Italy, where leagues are weeks away from returning, are watching to see how the weekend goes.
The Bundesliga has been expecting millions of extra fans to watch coverage worldwide.
In Germany, there were concerns that fans would try to approach stadiums to support their teams from afar. Police in Dortmund appealed to fans to stay at home and broadcaster Sky reported it was quiet outside the ground.
Some players and coaches have already fallen foul of the rules.
Augsburg’s new coach Heiko Herrlich ruled himself out of his side’s 2-1 home defeat against Wolfsburg after leaving the team hotel to buy toothpaste.
While Herrlich was criticised, there was sympathy for Union coach Urs Fischer after he broke quarantine following a family bereavement.
It means he must miss his side’s clash with Bayern.