After Inter Milan saw their weekend Serie A match against Sampdoria called off due to the coronavirus outbreak hitting northern Italy, discussions continued for most of this week about whether Inter's UEFA Europa League match would go forward on Thursday.
Bulgarian First League champions PFC Ludogorets were scheduled to visit the San Siro Stadium, located in the Lombardy region hardest hit by the outbreak. Authorities now say that 12 people have died of the highly contagious respiratory ailment in Italy, according to a BBC report. The country has seen more than 300 confirmed cases of coronavirus — also known by its technical name, COVID-19 — mostly concentrated in the northern Lombardy region, where 10 of the 11 towns that have been placed on lockdown to contain the spread of the disease are located.
Ultimately, however, the Italian government, UEFA officials, as well as officials from both Inter Milan and Ludogorets agreed to play the match — albeit inside an empty stadium, as the BBC reported. More than 600 Bulgarian fans had already arranged to make the two-hour flight to northern Italy for the contest, and are now left stranded.
Their team fell behind 2-0 in the first leg of the tie last week in a match that saw newly acquired former Tottenham Hotspur star Christian Eriksen drive home his first goal for the Italian club.
Ludogorets players arrived in Milan by air on Wednesday sporting medical face masks and surgical gloves. This was done in order to prevent picking up the virus which, similar to other respiratory viruses such as influenza, can be acquired through the air, or through contact with surfaces where the virus is present.
How much of a priority Inter Coach Antonio Conte is making the Europa League campaign also remains uncertain. In his first year at the helm, Conte's Nerazzurri is staging their first serious challenge to unseat eight-time-consecutive Italian champions Juventus. They now sit six points behind Juve in third place — but with a game in hand due to last weekend's postponement.
The two rivals are set to play their second Derby d'Italia of the season on Sunday — a game that, at least as of Thursday, is scheduled to go ahead, but also behind closed doors with no fans admitted, according to the BBC report.
But Inter first needs to get their European series against the Bulgarian champs out of the way. Even under the unusual and unnerving circumstances, the home side is clearly favored by oddsmakers, who have pegged Inter as a -280 favorite to win the game and the series, according to odds published by Bleacher Report. Ludogorets, on the other hand, have been assigned underdog odds of +345, with +990 set as the odds of a draw.
Even in the empty stadium, the Inter Milan vs. Ludogorets UEFA Europa League showdown is scheduled to kick off at 9 p.m. Central European Standard Time on Thursday. That's 3 p.m. EST, noon PST, in the United States, where a pay-per-view stream from B/R Live will be the only way to watch the match.