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Coronavirus: El Salvador declare champions, end season early

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Once Deportivo of El Salvador has been declared the 2020 Clausura champion following a decision by the country's football federation to prematurely end all football competitions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Once Deportivo were leading the top-flight with 20 points after 11 games, one more point that closest rival, El Vencedor.

"We have decided to declare Once Deportivo champion," Salvador Football Federation (FESFUT) president Hugo Carrillo announced at a news conference. "The executive committee of the federation has taken a decision that may or may not be welcomed by some.

"The decision taken is to end the tournament of the professional and amateur leagues from March 20."

FESFUT postponed all competitions for 30 days on March 14 but have now gone a step further, with the country having declared a state of emergency on March 15.

"We have done this so as to protect the health of players, coaches, staff members, fans, press, everyone involved in football," Carrillo added. "Right now we have no cases to lament in our football but we want to prevent this.

"It's an unprecedented situation and out of our control."

Once Deportivo coach Juan Cortes celebrated his team being crowned champions and said: "Aside from whether or not people consider this fair or unfair, we were leading the standings and we were the most consistent team.

"I'm very proud to have achieved it. This is the reward for more than two months of work done by many people. It's a gift to represent our country in CONCACAF and we are all going to celebrate from our homes. We now need to start planning the next tournament."

Once Deportivo will join Alianza and FAS, the two Apertura 2019 finalists, in playing the international club competitions.

Runners-up, El Vencedor, congratulated Once Deportivo by posting a photograph on social media of Once Deportivo's emblem with the caption "Congratulations champions!" and the message: "The board, technical team and players congratulate the 2020 Clausura champions, that with a lot of effort showed it on the pitch!"

FESFUT, meanwhile, announced that a playoff game to be staged at a neutral ground would decide which team is promoted to the first division and which team is relegated to the second tier.

"We don't want to be the ones to make that decision of who is relegated and who is promoted to the first division," Carrillo said. "Once the lockdown is lifted by the authorities, the teams will have 10 days to prepare and there will be a playoff game between Jocoro, [who were last in the first division standings after 33 rounds before the suspension] and Platense [the 2019 Second division Apertura champions], that will be played at a neutral ground. Platense will have the opportunity to be promoted if they beat Jocoro and if they lose, Jocoro would remain in the first division."

El Salvador registered its first coronavirus case on Wednesday.