Mainz stars on Bundesliga comeback: ‘This is what we do’ – BBC News


Taiwo Awoniyi of Mainz runs with the ball during the Bundesliga match between FC Augsburg and FSV Mainz 05
Awoniyi is on loan from Liverpool

Ten weeks after its last official game, the Bundesliga is back.

With Germany feeling confident enough in its coronavirus measures to allow football to happen again, it follows South Korea in restarting its league – albeit behind closed doors – and with FAs in other continuing to grapple with how to deal with their suspended seasons, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and the rest are for now the focus of the sporting world.

And with nine games left, there is a lot happening throughout the league.

Among the players excited to return to action this weekend are the African players at Mainz – Nigeria’s Taiwo Awoniyi, on loan from Liverpool, and Cameroon’s Pierre Kunde Malong.

Awoniyi told BBC Sport Africa that, despite the long gap and the concerns that have been raised about resuming competitive sport, every player at the club has “already switched their mentality 100% to the game.”

“This is what we do,” he said.

“Whenever we are called upon, we just have to be prepared for it. I think I am ready as well as all the other players.”

Mainz are 15th in the league table, four points above the relegation play-off zone. Their first comeback game is against Cologne on Sunday.

Kunde said the game was the “most important” one.

“We’ll forget about the eight left and just focus on Sunday and try to win the game,” the midfielder said.

“The virus has turned everything upside down. The most important thing is us – we have to stay focused on us.

“We know how critical our situation in the table is, so we have to stay focused, get that inner motivation, and play and win games.

“I know it’s been long; we’ve been out and all that. Players might have lost form or confidence but that’s not an excuse.”

Throughout the 10 weeks of stoppage in Germany, players have had to respect several measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

To begin with, each player was given an individualised training programme to follow at home.

When it became clear that the league would be able to restart, there was a build-up of contact-free training at the training ground.

‘Smile on your face’

Pierre Kunde Malong of FSV Mainz 05 battles for possession with Kevin Volland of Bayer 04 Leverkusen during the Bundesliga match
Kunde (centre) said players are very aware of how different life will be

Since 6 May, the players have been in normal training.

“At the start, it was hard,” Kunde said.

“But when they said we can go back to the pitch, we felt relieved, we felt happy.

“Despite doing the social distance training, respecting the sanitation rules, it really felt good to go back and see your team-mates.

“It puts that smile on your face, doing what you really love.”

After 10 weeks without a competitive match, some people – like Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann – see the resumption of the Bundesliga as a completely new competition, a “nine-game tournament” which follows “a short break, then a relaxed phase and an intense preparation,” as he explained to magazine Kicker.

What will also be different, of course, will be playing without supporters in the stands.

“We have to forget about the fans – forget about everybody, just do it for ourselves,” Kunde said.

“I’m very confident we’re going stay in the Bundesliga. I have no doubts about that.

“We’re focused, we’ve been training hard to stay and now we have an opportunity to make it realistic, so I’m very confident we can make it.”

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