Fans are returning to the stands next weekend in Portugal, as Santa Clara are set to host Paços de Ferreira on the Azorean island of São Miguel.
According to a statement from Liga Portugal, the regional government and governing body of the Primeira Liga have agreed to let home fans fill the stands to one-third capacity. Social distancing and mask-wearing will be compulsory.
“This decision will require all Azoreans to adopt collective responsibility behaviors,” Liga Portugal said. “We are fully convinced that the Azorean people will again respond to the recommendations of the competent authorities and will be an example of civility, wisdom and rectitude in a demanding moment for everyone.”
Thousands of Fans Can Return in Primeira Liga Matchday 21 Clash
The Azores Serve as a Testing Ground for the Next Normal
As the number of COVID-19 infections subsides on the volcanic archipelago, which sits about 1,500 kilometres from the coast of mainland Europe, Santa Clara is being used once again as a testing ground to see if fans can safely return to the stands.
It will be the third time in the 2020/21 campaign that Santa Clara have been cleared to allow fans in, with nearly 1,000 witnessing their 2-1 defeat to current leaders Sporting Lisbon back in October and even fewer watching Os Açoreanos take on Gil Vicente.
However, this is the first time fans will return in 2021 and the largest audience allowed into a Portuguese stadium in about a year. The authorities hope to use the match as a blueprint for the rest of the teams in the league once COVID-19 rates finally begin to go down in the rest of the country.
“We believe that, soon, everyone will have the opportunity to return to football, supporting their teams and in full compliance with public health measures,” Liga Portugal said.
Fans Treated to a Match in Which European Places Are at Stake
Next Saturday, almost 4,500 fans will be in attendance as seventh-place Santa Clara takes on fifth-place Paços de Ferreira with European places at stake.
The side is currently qualified for the second qualifying round of the newly-inaugurated Europa Conference League. However, a few positive results could see them move into the Champions League third qualifying round.
Santa Clara, on the other hand, have won 25 points after 20 matches. The Azoreans sit 10 points behind fifth-place and only retain a slight hope of reaching the Europa Conference League qualifiers.
However, a big home win next Saturday in front of their fans could put them seven points back of fifth and be the catalyst they need to make it into Europe for the first time since 2002.