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Dutch league becomes first in Europe to end season

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AZ Alkmaar and Ajax were both on 56 points when the Eredivisie season was suspended in March © ANP SPORT/AFP/File / Maurice van STEEN

THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Apr 24The Dutch football federation (KNVB) called an end to the 2019-20 season on Friday, as the Eredivisie became the first top European league called off due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No team will be declared champions after Ajax and AZ Alkmaar were left level on points at the top of the table with nine games still to play.

“Unfortunately, given the measures (banning large-scale gatherings) taken by the government, it became impossible to finish the 2019-2020 season,” the KNVB said in a statement.

“Public health always comes first. It’s not just a football problem here given what the coronavirus is doing to society. Nonetheless, the professional football committee is aware that today’s decisions are going to cause great disappointment for some,” it added.

Leaders Ajax, above AZ on goal difference, will qualify for next season’s Champions League, according to the KNVB, which will await a definitive verdict from UEFA on May 25.

AZ will likely enter the competition’s preliminary rounds, with Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Willem II set to compete in the Europa League based on the final standings.

It marks the first time since 1945 the Dutch season has finished without a league champion.

“As a player and as a club you naturally want to become champion,” Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar told the club’s website.

“You want to show it on the field and we have been at the top all year round.

“It is a pity that you are not declared champion, but in this situation that may be understandable. There are more important things at the moment than football.”

– No relegation or promotion –

The KNVB announced its intention to scrap the season on Tuesday following the Dutch government’s decision to extend a ban on mass gatherings until September 1.

Matches behind closed doors were said not to be an option as they are considered events which require a permit and police presence.

The final decision was made following a meeting with the clubs on Friday. Next season will begin with the same 18 teams that started the aborted Eredivisie campaign.

“There will be no relegation, nor promotion,” said the KNVB, which is expected to face legal action from SC Cambuur and De Graafschap — the top two clubs in the second division.

“This feels like the biggest disgrace in the history of Dutch sports,” Cambuur manager Henk De Jong told Dutch broadcaster NOS. His side was 11 points clear of the play-off places when the league was halted.

The Belgian Pro League is expected to take a similar decision to that of their neighbours next week, with Club Brugge to be awarded the title.

Football in Europe ground to a standstill in mid-March following the spread of the virus across the continent. However, Germany is preparing to resume the Bundesliga on May 9 behind closed doors, if the government gives the green light.

Players in France could begin to return to training starting May 11, if lockdown restrictions are eased, while La Liga is also planning for clubs to resume training early next month.

No potential restart dates have yet been announced for leagues in Italy or England.

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