Benfica held 0-0 to sit tied for Portuguese league lead

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              Benfica's mascot eagle flies prior of a Portuguese League soccer match between Benfica and Tondela in Lisbon, Portugal, Thursday, June 4, 2020. The Portuguese League soccer matches resumed Wednesday without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Tiago Petinga/Pool via AP)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) — With scarves replacing fans and an eagle mascot making its traditional pre-game flight, Benfica was held to a 0-0 draw by Tondela on Thursday, missing a chance to take the outright lead of the Portuguese league in the team’s first match since the competition was halted nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of scarves with the club’s red and white colors were placed on the seats at the Stadium of Light to represent Benfica fans as the club returned to action a day after rival Porto lost 2-1 at Famalicão in its first game back.

The pair of results left the clubs tied with 60 points with nine rounds remaining. Porto, which has the advantage in the head-to-head tiebreaker, had carried a one-point lead from before the pandemic.

The Benfica scarves on the stands had messages such as “always together” and “wherever you are.” A big banner with the words “here we are” was seen above the scarves in one of the seating sections.

Before the match, one of Benfica’s eagle mascots flew around inside the stadium in a tradition that happens before every home match.

“It’s ugly to play in an empty stadium,” Tondela coach Natxo González said. “I don’t get soccer without fans, but we have to get used to this new reality.”

Needing a win to overtake leader Porto, Benfica dominated from the start against 13th-place Tondela, creating more than 20 attempts without being able to capitalize. Benfica was denied twice by the woodwork near the end.

“They always played with 10 men behind the ball, it was tough,” Benfica midfielder Adel Taarabt said. “We kept trying and trying but the ball just wouldn’t go in. Of course we missed our fans, but that can’t be used as an excuse.”

It was the third consecutive draw for the defending champion, and the second at home. Benfica hasn’t won in four straight matches at the Stadium at Light in all competitions.

Earlier Thursday, Marítimo and Setúbal played to a 1-1 draw to stay in the bottom half of the table. Fourth-place Sporting Lisbon drew 2-2 at sixth-place Vitória de Guimarães, which used large photos of its fans in the stands.