Gladbach beats Cologne as German soccer closes doors to fans

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              Players challenge for the ball in an empty stadium during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and 1.FC Cologne in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. It is the first Bundesliga match played behind closed doors without spectators due to the coronavirus outbreak. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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MÖNCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) — Borussia Mönchengladbach beat Cologne 2-1 on Wednesday in the Bundesliga’s first game held without fans amid the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Players’ shouts echoed around the Borussia Park as a passionate local rivalry turned into what Gladbach midfielder Christoph Kramer called “a training game,” played out with only a few dozen people watching.

“There’s something missing and massively so. I can only hope that this isn’t something for the long term,” referee Deniz Aytekin said in televised comments. “Without fans it’s not worth half as much.”

Before the game, a small group of Gladbach fans dressed as ghosts protested at the entrance to the stadium, holding a banner reading “Ghost match – we want in.”

Hundreds of fans gathered in driving rain outside the stadium and let off fireworks and flares at the final whistle to celebrate Gladbach’s win. The Gladbach team and staff climbed the stands to an open concourse where the fans could see them.

Breel Embolo put Gladbach ahead with his first goal since December after charging onto a layoff pass from Patrick Herrmann. He could also claim the credit for the second goal when Cologne defender Jorge Meré poked Embolo’s cross into his own net.

A rare mistake from Gladbach keeper Yann Sommer allowed Cologne back into the game. Sommer slipped while clearing the ball and delivered it straight to Mark Uth, who scored his fourth goal in six league games. Uth had a chance to level the score in stoppage time but volleyed straight at Sommer.

The win put Gladbach back into the Champions League places, overtaking Bayer Leverkusen for fourth. It is six points off leader Bayern Munich. Cologne is 10th.

“Everyone was a bit nervy,” Cologne coach Markus Gisdol said. “You can hear what the other bench is saying, what the referees are saying to each other.”

All Bundesliga games scheduled for this weekend will be played without spectators with the possible exception of Augsburg’s game against Wolfsburg on Sunday.

Most clubs followed government recommendations not to host events with more than 1,000 people in attendance to prevent the spread of the virus.

Union Berlin wanted to host Bayern Munich on Saturday with fans in the stadium. Union initially said local officials had approved, but the club backed down Wednesday after district and city politicians sharply criticized the move.

Midweek fixtures are rare in German soccer. The Gladbach-Cologne game was originally scheduled for Feb. 9 but postponed when stormy weather threatened to make travel for fans dangerous.