Football - Champions League
UEFA cancels Santa Coloma-Birkirkara
'Pitch not conducive for the health and safety of players'
The Estadi Comunal pitch was deemed unfit by UEFA to host the Santa Coloma-Birkirkara match yesterday.
The 2010-11 Champions League got off to a controversial start yesterday when the first match of the competition, a first qualifying round first leg between Andorra champions Santa Coloma and Birkirkara, was cancelled as UEFA ruled the pitch in La Vella unsafe.
The venue, Estadi Comunal, is the only football ground in Andorra available for this kind of competition. It is owned by the country's football federation.
The hosts had a deadline to beat yesterday after UEFA had warned that the match could not be played on the abject surface following a complaint lodged by Birkirkara. The Maltese team said they were unable to conduct a proper training session 24 hours prior to kick-off.
Birkirkara FC vice-president John Borg told The Times that UEFA had given the Santa Coloma officials until 3 p.m. yesterday to finish works at the ground. However, the hosts failed to meet the deadline.
"We couldn't conduct our training on that pitch," Borg said.
"The surface was in a horrible state and there were sizeable patches that had no turf at all. No-one expected this to happen but we were also not ready to risk our players' health. We were only allowed 30 minutes to practise which is unacceptable.
"I have sympathy for Santa Coloma because they had no fault in all this as they were let down by their federation."
UEFA informed Santa Coloma that the match could not be played in those conditions and ordered the host club to remedy the situation.
Some works were undertaken but when UEFA delegate Trygve Borno, of Norway, inspected the pitch, along with the match officials yesterday afternoon, the Estadi Comunal surface did not pass the test and the match was called off.
"There was no other option left as it was unthinkable to play in that ground," Borg said.
"Now, we wait for UEFA's decision but normally in such circumstances the hosts are penalised heavily and a walkover awarded to the visiting team."
The UEFA website said the match in La Vella was cancelled as the playing surface was not conducive for the health and safety of the players.
The Times understands that a UEFA Disciplinary Commission decision will be made in the next 48 hours.
The Estadi Comunal is supposed to host a second match this week.
On Thursday, UE Santa Coloma are due to host Mogren in the first qualifying round of the Europa League. However, the first leg is also in the balance as it looks unlikely that works to patch the pitch will be completed in time.
Meanwhile, Birkirkara will be returning home this evening on a flight from Barcelona. The second leg will be played at the Centenary Stadium as scheduled on Wednesday at 5.30 p.m.
First qualifying round (first leg): Tre Fiori (San Marino) vs Rudar (Montenegro).