Judge overturns suspension rule game on minutes before kickoff in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A last-minute ruling from a Brazilian judge forced stricken Flamengo to go ahead with their match at Palmeiras on Sunday, ensuring they had to field a host of their youth players after most of their squad had tested positive for COVID-19.

The coach, team doctor and at least 16 first-team players tested positive before and after Flamengo had played a Copa Libertadores tie in Ecuador on Tuesday.

The Brazilian Football Confederation and the country’s Sports Tribunal both ordered Flamengo to play Sunday’s major Brazilian Serie A match using youth players.

Yet a judge from a labour court sided with club employees, who said their health would be at risk if the game took place, and ordered the game to be suspended.

However, just minutes before kickoff a more senior judge heard an appeal and ruled the game between the current champions Flamengo and the only unbeaten team in the league must take place.

Palmeiras players were already on the pitch warming up while Flamengo, unsure of whether the game would take place, were waiting in the dressing rooms of the Allianz Parque stadium in Sao Paulo.

The game eventually kicked off 22 minutes late and ended 1-1, with Palmeiras taking the lead through Patrick de Paula’s deflected shot after 55 minutes and Pedro equalising for Flamengo a minute later.

The remarkable events came in the nation with the second highest number of coronavirus deaths outside the United States. More than 140,000 Brazilians have died from the virus.

Football restarted in Brazil in June with Flamengo kicking off the Rio de Janeiro state championship.

Reporting by Andrew Downie; editing by Ian Chadband