Liverpool have been barred from entering Germany for a Champions League match against RB Leipzig on February 16 because of strict entry rules imposed because of the pandemic, the German interior ministry said Thursday.
“German federal police informed RB Leipzig today that the described case does not meet the requirements for an exception” to the travel restrictions, the ministry said in a statement.
UEFA’s regulations decree that Leipzig must find a way of hosting the last-16, first leg match or risk forfeiting it as a 3-0 defeat, but the planning for the match has been upended by Germany’s updated travel restrictions.
RB Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said the club would find an alternative location for the match.
“We are in talks and we are working on a solution. We will play somewhere,” he told AFP’s German sport subsidiary SID.
The new German rules, slated to last until the day after the game, ban travellers from countries hit by new, more contagious, coronavirus variants such as Britain.
Though there are some exceptions for medical workers and others in key professions, the interior ministry has repeatedly said that there are “no special provision for professional sportspeople”.
Potential solutions include playing the game in another country, or switching the home and away legs of the tie so that the first leg would be in Liverpool.
Leipzig, who reached the semi-finals of the competition last season, are scheduled to travel to Liverpool for the second leg, to be played behind closed doors like all top-level matches in Europe, on March 10.
It is not clear if Leipzig’s sister club RB Salzburg could host the February 16 game at their Red Bull Arena. The Austrian side will play Spanish club Villarreal there in a Europa League game on two days later.
“The Europa League has a different branding from the Champions League. So the stadium must be prepared two days before and the turf must be in top condition,” Salzburg’s media spokesman Christian Kircher told German newspaper Passauer Neue Presse.
The decision also places a question mark over another Champions League last-16 match, between Borussia Moenchengladbach against Manchester City which is due to be played in Germany on February 24.
The Champions League, Europe’s top club competition, was heavily disrupted by the pandemic last season.
It was placed on hold when sport across Europe was halted in March.
UEFA then took the decision to complete the competition as a ‘Final Eight’ tournament in Lisbon in August, without spectators. Bayern Munich beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 in the final.