Saturday 25 April 2020

Live football in a plague year

The (genuine) magic of the Nicaraguan Premier League

Only a handful of the world's football leagues are still playing games. I've been expecting Sky Sports to snap up the TV rights for them, but they haven't. Perhaps they expect the likes of Belarus to announce a lockdown any day, but this doesn't look like happening. Belarus has been recording a death toll from COVID-19 that you can count on one hand for weeks now. Nicaragua and its surrounding countries seem to have been largely unscathed. Taiwan has weathered the storm and Tajikstan has claimed, albeit dubiously, to have had no deaths at all.

These are the countries you will have to take an interest in if you want to watch any live football in the foreseeable future, and it's not such a bad deal. The Belarusian Football Federation has spaced out its games on Saturday so you can watch three in a row and they have a high quality YouTube feed for them. The Taiwanese league also has a reliable YouTube feed and you can watch any of the games live at 9am every Sunday with English commentary. I can't comment on Tajikstan and Turkmenistan's leagues because I haven't tried to watch them. I'm not even sure it is possible to watch them, but they play their games at lunchtime (UK time) on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Taiwanese league kicked off last week with cardboard cut-outs replacing fans, and the Belarusian league is in its early days, with only six match days so far. The standard is fair to middling, but competitive. There is a certain bleakness to Belarus at the best of times and the matches are more thinly attended than usual, for obvious reasons, but if you like football, this is the kind of thing you'll like. It certainly beats the try-hard banter of Lineker, Wrighty and Shearer on what's left of Match of the Day.

In my limited experience, there are not too many upsets in the Belarus league. Vitebsk won at 4/1 last week, but they needed a penalty against nine men to do it. At 6/1, fourth placed Gorodeya look good value to beat tenth placed BATE today. In tomorrow's game, top placed Slutsk are cleary favourites to beat bottom placed Belshina.

The Nicaraguan league is the pick of the bunch for me. The government's response to coronavirus has been almost unbelievable, but the virus doesn't seem to have taken hold and the season is almost at an end. The stadiums are mostly sub-Conference level, but the standard is better than that implies and some of the scenery is fantastic. The punters are still showing up and making some noise.

The format is unusual, to say the least. There are ten teams in the top division and they effectively play two seasons a year: the Apertura and the Clausura. Teams that finish in the top two are guaranteed a place in the playoff semi-finals against whoever wins from a playoff between the teams that finish third, fourth, fifth and sixth. This means that the team that finishes sixth out of ten can still win the league.

That won't be happening in the Clausura this year, because the fifth and sixth placed teams got beat in the first round of play-offs on Wednesday. Tonight, top placed Manugua FC will be playing CD Walter Ferretti while second placed Real Esteli will be playing Diriangen. The matches are available on Betfair, Bet365 and (I presume) some other betting platforms. The live stream was pretty good last week. You have to have an account to watch it and I'm not sure if you have to have a bet on the game, but I would advise doing so anyway to make it more interesting. The downside is that the games, which are normally on at 10pm UK time, are on at 2am this weekend. If you are still up then, Real Esteli v Diriangen is the one to watch.


Belarus Premier League

1pm: Slavia v Minsk
3pm: Gorodeya v BATE
5pm: Dinamo Brest v Shakhtyor

Nicaraguan play-off semi-finals

2am: Manugua FC v CD Walter Ferretti
2am: Real Esteli v Diriangen

Taiwan Premier League

9am: Taichung Futuro v Tatung
9am: Tainan City v Taipei Red Lions
9am: Ming Chuan University v Taipower
9am: Hang Yuen v NTUPES

Belarus Premier League

12pm: Slutsk v Belshina
2pm: Torpedo BelAZ v Ruh Brest
4pm: Isloch v Vitebsk

No comments: