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Soccer: Red Star back in training as Serbian league resumption looms

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Former European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade and Serbia’s other 15 first division clubs resumed training on Monday as the Balkan nation’s government eased some of its measures aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - BATE Borisov vs Red Star Belgrade - Borisov Arena, Barysaw, Belarus - November 23, 2017 Red Star Belgrade players pose for a team group photo before the match REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo

With the Serbian FA to decide on Wednesday when and in what format the league will resume, Red Star manager Dejan Stankovic, whose team top the standings, said he was delighted to see his players again after nearly two months of quarantine.

"We've been in touch by phone and on social networks but it's great to have them back in training and we are raring to go," former Yugoslavia midfielder Stankovic told the club's website

“It’s a sign that we have started forcing the coronavirus into submission, but the most important thing is that all spheres of life return to normal gradually,” said 41-year old Stankovic, who won the 2010 Champions League with Inter Milan.

Some shops, restaurants and cafes reopened in Serbia’s capital on Monday and athletes have been allowed to train outdoors again but a nationwide state of emergency, including daily curfews, is still in effect.

The 6 pm to 5 am weekday curfews are expected to be lifted this week but public transport in Belgrade remains on hold.

Serbia has so far registered 9,464 confirmed cases and 193 deaths related to the novel COVID-19 virus.

Serbian FA officials had indicated that competition could resume in late May or early June and the governing body’s chief Slavisa Kokeza said it would be up to the clubs to decide whether they want to cut the season short.

“We have asked all first and second tier clubs to vote whether they want to play four more rounds until the end of the regular season or stick with the full 11 rounds remaining,” Kokeza told the state Tanjug news agency.

“We will go with the majority. If it boils down to just four more rounds, we will consult the clubs about a possible FA decision to expand the top two divisions.”

Champions Red Star, who won Europe’s elite club competition in 1991, top the first division standings with 69 points from 26 games, 11 more than city rivals Partizan.

After the 30 regular season games, the league is designated to split into two - a championship playoff involving the top eight and a relegation playoff comprising the bottom eight.

Teams play each other once on a round-robin basis in the playoffs.

Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ken Ferris