MADRID (Reuters) - Rayo Vallecano beat Albacete 1-0 on Wednesday as Spanish football returned in bizarre circumstances from its COVID-19 hiatus with the second half of a match that first kicked off six months ago but was suspended due to offensive chanting.
The second division encounter, played without fans in attendance, was the first Spanish football match to take place since March after all soccer was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet only 45 minutes were played and Albacete lined up with 10 players as midfielder Eddy Silvestre had been sent off when the first half of the match was staged on Dec. 15.
That game, played at the Vallecas Stadium, was abandoned at halftime as the home fans had accused Albacete forward Roman Zozulya of being a Nazi, the first time a Spanish football match had been called off due to offensive chanting.
Zozulya had little impact on this match, however, which was settled by a brilliant strike from Rayo’s Peruvian right back Luis Advincula, who found the net on the hour mark with a superb curling strike from outside the area.
The win kept up Rayo’s hopes of earning a playoff spot and lifted them up to seventh in the standings while leaving struggling Albacete 18th, level on points with the final spot in the relegation zone.
Spain’s top-flight La Liga resumes on Thursday with a local derby between Sevilla and Real Betis, with the second division starting up again properly on Friday.
A minute’s silence was held before kickoff in memory of the 27,000 people in Spain who have died from COVID-19, while flags displayed across the empty stands also honoured the victims, reading “We’ll never forget you” and “Always in our memory”.
The other seats stood bare save for a handful of journalists, substitutes and reserve players although a father and his young daughter, both clad in Rayo shirts, could be seen watching the match from their balcony above the stadium.
“It was very strange to play without fans, that’s what was missing the most, the support and noise of our people,” said Rayo’s coach Paco Jemez.
Ukrainian forward Zozulya has had a long-running dispute with Rayo ever since he signed for the club in January 2017, but left after fans turned up to his first training session and accused him of belonging to far-right groups in his home country.
Zozulya has repeatedly denied belonging to the far-right movement.
Even though fans could not enter the stadium due to safety reasons, Rayo’s hardcore supporters hung up a banner outside the ground bearing an offensive message about Zozulya.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis