Coronavirus sees 2019-20 Dutch season canceled with leaders Ajax denied title

The 2019-20 season in the Netherlands has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, with leaders Ajax denied the league title and no relegation from the Eredivisie and no promotion from the second tier.

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The Dutch government extended a ban on major public events by three months on Tuesday, leading to the cancellation of the league season. Ajax were top -- level on 56 points with AZ Alkmaar but ahead on goal difference -- while Feyenoord were six points further back with nine matches remaining.

A Dutch Football Association statement read: "Unfortunately, with the cabinet's most recent coronavirus measures, it has become impossible to play out the 2019-2020 season of professional football leagues in time.

"It will be crystal clear to everyone involved, from supporters and players to directors and referees, that public health always comes first; the decisions made today about the settlement of the running competitions are only a football problem in the perspective of what the coronavirus causes in society.

"Nevertheless, the professional football board is aware that today's decisions will cause great disappointment in football for some."

Ajax general manager Edwin van der Sar said he understood the decision to not award a league champion for the first time since 1945.

"As players and coaches, you want to win the title on the field," said Van der Sar, the former Dutch national team and Manchester United goalkeeper.

"We have been top of the table throughout the season, so it is a pity we haven't been able to become champion but given the situation we are in, it is understandable.

"There are a lot more important matters than football right now."

At the other end of the table, bottom-side RKC Waalwijk have been handed a reprieve along with ADO Den Haag. Cambuur and De Graafschap will remain in the second division despite being on course for promotion to the top flight, with the former 11 points clear before the cancellation.

Cambuur manager Henk de Jong blasted the decision, telling Dutch outlet NOS: "This feels like the greatest disgrace from Dutch sport ever."

Ajax will compete in the Champions League next season, taking up one of the two places for the Dutch in the competition while AZ Alkmaar will start in the preliminary rounds.

Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Willem II Tilburg, who are the next three in the standings, would participate in the Europa League, with the KNVB saying they were following UEFA guidelines issued earlier this week.

Sixth-place side Utrecht, three points behind Willem II but with a game in hand and also still to play the Dutch Cup final against Feyenoord, said they would not accept the decision.

"It is unacceptable that the cup is ignored and does not provide a ticket to European competition," the club said in a statement, adding it would seek judicial relief and also take its case to UEFA.

Feyenoord manager Dick Advocaat, who replaced Jaap Stam in October and brought the club into title contention, signed a deal until the end of the campaign, but later agreed to stay on indefinitely until the situation was clear.

Information from Reuters was used in this report.