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French fans get Europe’s first taste of football in the flesh with PSG in Le Havre

Back to the pitch: Neymar and Mbappé will play to the sound of cheering fans for the first time in four months on Sunday 12 July.
Back to the pitch: Neymar and Mbappé will play to the sound of cheering fans for the first time in four months on Sunday 12 July. AFP/File

Five thousand football fans in the north of France on Sunday celebrate Europe's first professional match open to the public since the Covid-19 lockdown. To welcome back supporters – who will all have to wear face masks – Paris Saint-Germain is bringing big names like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to second division Le Havre for an exhibition match.

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Sunday night's friendly will be the first encounter in front of fans to feature one of Europe's elite clubs since the coronavirus outbreak erupted.

Only 5,000 people will be allowed inside Le Havre's 25,000-seat Stade Oceane. Spectators will have to wear face masks to get into the arena and they'll be kept apart in the stands and in any queues at the entrances.

French champions PSG will wear the words “Tous unis" (All united) and “Merci” (Thank you) on their kit to show appreciation for health workers.

Brazilian striker Neymar and France's World Cup winner Kylian Mbappé will take to the pitch for PSG, but Abdou Diallo, Juan Bernat and Layvin Kurzawa will not be playing. 

Social media was awash with fans anticipating the return to professional football. 

French fans first

Among Europe's top 5 leagues, only France is letting spectators back into soccer stadiums. Germany finished its season without fans but the league and clubs are exploring plans to play 2020-21 with fans. Play has resumed without fans in Spain, England and Italy.

France stopped its league and never resumed it in the wake of its outbreak. The return of fans comes as the country's death toll this week surpassed 30,000 and amid growing concerns of a possible second wave of infections.

Fuelling infection

Football matches are blamed for having helped speed the initial spread of the pandemic across Europe. In Serbia, matches played in front of thousands of fans despite the pandemic were followed last month by players and the CEO of Red Star Belgrade testing positive for the coronavirus.

The 24-man squad picked by PSG coach Thomas Tuchel includes the club's marquee stars, gearing up after four months of inactivity for their last competitive matches of the season.

PSG plays the finals of the French Cup and the League Cup later this month and the quarterfinals of the Champions League in August.

(with AP)

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