Meetings between Benfica and Sporting Club are amongst the most important matches in Portuguese soccer, but when Sunday’s high winds threatened to send glass crashing down from the roof of the Estádio da Luz, the Lisbon Derby become insignificant. Fifteen minutes before kicking off at the venue which will host this spring’s UEFA Champions League final, today’s match between Portugal’s first and third place teams was called off, with the stadium evacuated before debris began falling on the large derby crowd.
According to Portuguese Football League president Mario Figueiredo, the decision made by civil defense forces came just in time. Shortly after the venue was emptied, pieces of the stadium’s roof began falling into the stands.
Figueiredo, from Reuters’ reporting:
“There were small pieces of glass which had come off the roof,” Figueiredo told a news conference at the Stadium of Light.
“An emergency meeting was held around 15 minutes before the kickoff and we asked the civil defence if the game could go ahead. They said it couldn’t and told us to evacuate the stadium as quickly as possible.
“Fortunately this measure was decided in good time because shortly afterwards the pieces (of the roof) started to fall. A tragedy was avoided.
“We had to take this drastic decision,” added Figueiredo.
Benfica’s stadium, which holds 65,647 people, underwent renovations in 2003 ahead of the 2004 European Championships. In May, it will host this year’s UEFA Champions League final, the first time Europe’s club title game returns to Portugal since 1967.
Last season’s Primeira Liga meeting between Benfica and Sporting at the Estádio da Luz drew 62,553 people, with November’s Portuguese Cup meeting at the same venue drawing 47,156. With Sporting mounting a title challenge, another near-capacity crowd was expected for today’s game, making the early evacuation of the venue even more imperative.
Slightly concerning, however, was authorities persistence with the practice of letting the home fans leave first, forcing away supporters to stay in the stadium while the rest of the venue cleared out. Normally done as a safety precaution, the practice unnecessarily exposed fans to potential danger on Sunday, according to Sporting’s official supporters’ club:
“The Sporting fans were only allowed to leave the stadium around one hour after it was announced the game had been postponed,” they said in a statement.
“The fans were kept in a sporting arena that was not safe enough to stage the match,” the supporters club said before adding they had been treated in an “irresponsible” manner.
Despite the delay, no injuries were reported.