MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The A-League has stripped Melbourne City of home advantage and shifted their semi-final against Macarthur United to Sydney to allow fans to attend the game amid lingering COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne.
The match was to be staged at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Sunday after City earned hosting rights by finishing top in the regular season, but fans remain barred from sports events in Melbourne after an outbreak of COVID-19.
The semi-final will now be played at the "neutral" Jubilee Oval in southern Sydney, the A-League said in a statement on Thursday.
"I share the frustration of Melbourne City and the club’s supporters that the home A-League semi-final they had earned by being Premiers can't be played at AAMI Park," A-League boss Greg O’Rourke said.
"But with the game due to be played in less than four days, we have had to make the decision to move it to Sydney so that both teams can plan accordingly."
The move, which should ensure Sydney-based Macarthur have decent support at the semi-final, was quickly panned by City fans on social media.
"Hardly a neutral ground," one fan tweeted.
The A-League had said this week they were confident of securing government approval for a crowd of at least 25% capacity at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
Melbourne City were forced to play both their playoffs matches in last year's 2019/20 season in Sydney due to COVID-19 restrictions and ended up losing the title-deciding Grand Final to Sydney FC 1-0.
Five-times champions Sydney play Adelaide United in the other semi-final at Jubilee Oval on Saturday.
Melbourne exited a two-week hard lockdown late last week, its fourth since the pandemic began, after an outbreak that has seen about 100 cases since May 24.
Sydney reported its first locally acquired case of COVID-19 in more than a month on Wednesday, stoking concerns of a fresh wave of infections.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford)