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Professional soccer returns to Germany, in empty arenas but with the world watching

Aue's reserve players sit on the bench observing social distancing and wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, during the 2nd Bundesliga soccer match between FC Erzgebirge Aue and SV Sandhausen, in Aue, Germany, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Professional soccer has resumed after a two-month break in Germany with four games in the second division. (Robert Michael/Pool Photo via AP)

BERLIN — Professional soccer resumed in Germany after a two-month break with four games Saturday taking place behind closed doors but broadcast around the world on television.

South Korea midfielder Lee Jae-sung scored the first goal in the division to give Holstein Kiel the lead at Jahn Regensburg. He celebrated by giving teammates fist bumps.

The games were the first since soccer was put on hold March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they were being played in empty stadiums amid strict hygiene measures.

Goal celebrations in other games were also marked by fist bumps and elbow-to-elbow touching. Players had been warned to keep their emotions in check, and to desist from spitting, handshakes and hugging.

All players and team staff who didn't start games wore masks. Substitutes took their positions in the stands, rather than beside the fields as customary. Balls and seats were disinfected, and players were handed masks as they left the field at half time.

A ball boy disinfects a ball during the 2nd Bundesliga soccer match between Karlsruher SC and SV Darmstadt 98, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Professional soccer has resumed after a two-month break in Germany with four games in the second division. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
Christian Eichner coach of KSC, left and Dimitrios Grammozis coach of Darmstadt 98 greet each other by elbow during the 2nd Bundesliga soccer match beteween Karlsruher SC and SV Darmstadt 98, in Karlsruhe, Germany, Saturday, May 16, 2020. Professional soccer has resumed after a two-month break in Germany with four games in the second division. (Matthias Hangst/Pool Photo via AP)
A lone fan of Fortuna Duesseldorf watches from far the Merkur Spiel-Arena prior to the Bundesliga soccer match between Duesseldorf and Paderborn in Duesseldorf, Germany, Saturday, May 16, 2020. The German Bundesliga becomes the world's first major soccer league to resume after a two-month suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Roland Weihrauch/DPA via AP)

The Bundesliga was due to resume later Saturday, also without fans, with the Ruhr derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke the highlight.

The game's authorities were keen to restart the country's top two divisions with several clubs, including Schalke, facing severe financial difficulties because of the pandemic-enforced suspension in play.

Numerous polls showed a growing majority in Germany was against the resumption of the leagues. Fans are also critical of games without supporters present.

"Soccer without fans is nothing," read a joint statement from several Bayern Munich fan groups after the league decided on May 7 to resume.

Cologne fans accused authorities Saturday of prioritizing money over people's health. There was criticism too from players.

Karlsruher SC midfielder Marc Lorenz, a substitute in the second division game against Darmstadt on Saturday, told the Badische Neueste Nachrichten newspaper that the league hadn't considered the health of the players "at all" in its rush to get back. He also warned of fatigue leading to serious injuries.

Teams in both divisions are allowed five substitutions instead of the usual three to help cope after two months without play.

Players and staff have been subjected to regular testing for COVID-19. There were three cases found at Cologne, while second-division Dynamo Dresden was ordered into 14 days of quarantine after two more cases brought its total to three last Saturday. Dresden's game against Hannover on Sunday was called off, and the team cannot train during the quarantine period.

Augsburg coach Heiko Herrlich was due to make his debut in charge against Wolfsburg but will miss the game after leaving the team hotel in strict quarantine conditions to buy toiletries. He will only return after twice testing negative for the virus.

Bayern Munich visits Union Berlin on Sunday.

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