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Pro football kicks off in S. Korea after 2-month delay due to coronavirus pandemic

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

JEONJU -- It's been a long time coming, but professional football is finally here in South Korea.

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors hosted Suwon Samsung Bluewings before some 42,000 empty seats at Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, 240 kilometers south of Seoul, to kick off the 2020 K League 1 season.

The season was slated to begin on Feb. 29 but was pushed back indefinitely five days prior to its start due to the coronavirus outbreak. Then with the number of new cases steadily falling last month, the league settled on the second Friday of May to begin its new season.

Because of the delayed start, the season has been reduced from 38 matches to 27.

The early part of the season will be played without fans due to lingering COVID-19 infection concerns.

With no other football league of this caliber in play anywhere in the world, the K League has been a hot commodity among broadcasters starving for live sports. About two hours before Friday's kickoff, the K League said it had sold rights to televise games in 36 countries. The British national broadcaster BBC was among the latest stations to purchase K League rights.

The opening contest was also streamed live on the K League's official YouTube and Twitter pages.

Strict quarantine guidelines were in place. Players, all of whom had already tested negative in recent leaguewide testing, had to have their temperatures checked before entering the stadium.

Coaches and substitutes on both benches had to keep their masks on.

In the absence of fans, Jeonbuk tried to recapture at least some match-like atmosphere by piping in recorded sounds of fans cheering.

Banners with fans' messages for Jeonbuk players were hung on top of empty seats throughout the stadium. (Yonhap)

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