2 Benfica players injured when bus hit with rocks

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Two Benfica players were injured when rocks were thrown at the Portuguese soccer club’s bus on a motorway after the team was held to a 0-0 draw at home by Tondela.

Benfica said German midfielder Julian Weigl and Serbian winger Andrija Zivkovic were struck by glass shrapnel when the bus was stoned on the A2 motorway on Thursday. They were treated at Hospital da Luz.

On Friday, both players posted the same photograph of themselves giving the thumbs-up sign. In the Instagram photo, there is a bandage covers Zivkovic’s right eye. The attackers have not been identified, but the players addressed the likelihood that the culprits are Benfica fans.

“We are all doing mistakes but there was a line crossed!” Weigl wrote in his post. “Throwing rocks on a bus without caring if someone gets hurt? I know that’s not how the real Benfica fans are!

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“Especially these past weeks and days should have shown us that it’s always the better solution to stand together instead of literally throwing rocks at each other!” the 24-year-old German said.

Zivkovic didn’t discuss his eye injury but said “we are both well.”

“Unfortunately, we cannot justify this behavior… None the less we assure you that we will keep fighting for SL Benfica and will continue to give everything!” the 23-year-old Serbian said in his Instagram post.

The team was returning from the Stadium of Light to its training complex. The club condemned the attack as a “criminal stoning” and vowed to work with authorities to identify those responsible.

Weigl, who started the match, joined Benfica in January from Borussia Dortmund. Zivkovic, a Serbia international, did not play.

Images of the bus released by Portuguese sports daily A Bola show damage in several locations. One rock penetrated the glass and was shown in an aisle with shards of glass strewn about.

Portuguese soccer federation president Fernando Gomes described the attack as “a cowardly and barbaric act” which “has stained soccer’s image.”

Also, threatening graffiti was sprayed on the exterior of the homes of coach Bruno Lage and midfielders Pizzi and Rafa during the night, local media reported.

The draw against 13th-place Tondela meant that Benfica missed a chance to take the outright lead of the Portuguese league in the team’s first match since the competition was halted nearly three months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the match, thousands of scarves with the club’s red and white colors were placed on the seats at the Stadium of Light to represent Benfica fans as the club returned to action a day after rival Porto lost at Famalicão 2-1 in its first game back.

The results left the clubs tied with 60 points with nine rounds remaining. Porto, which has the advantage in the head-to-head tiebreaker, had carried a one-point lead from before the pandemic.

It was the third consecutive draw for the defending champions, and the second at home. Benfica hasn’t won in four straight matches at the Stadium at Light in all competitions.

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