Belgium on Tuesday called off the soccer match against Spain less than 24 hours before kickoff after the government raised the security threat level amid an investigation related to the Paris attacks.
The Belgian football federation said the decision was taken late on Monday after the government recommended that the game not be played.
“After consulting with the relevant bodies and the Spanish national team, the (Belgian FA) decided to cancel the match,” the federation said in a statement. “Right at the end of the evening, the (federation) was contacted by the government which recommended that the Belgium-Spain match should not go ahead tomorrow night.
“It is in the context of a new elevated terrorist alert and the current pursuit of a suspect.”
France has identified a Belgian man as the mastermind of the Paris attacks that killed 129 people on Friday. His current whereabouts are unknown. A major police operation took place in the Brussels neighbourhood of Molenbeek on Monday, although it failed to yield any arrests related to the attacks.
The Ministry of the Interior’s Crisis Center had raised the threat level earlier yesterday, recommending the cancellation of the match on its website.
“We deeply regret that such a friendly match between two motivated teams had to be cancelled so late and we understand the disappointment of numerous fans,” the federation statement added. “However, taking into account these exceptional circumstances, we couldn’t take any risk in the matter of the security of our players and supporters.”
The attacks in Paris started when two explosions were set off by suicide bombers outside the Stade de France while the French national team was playing Germany.
France is playing England at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday after the countries decided to go ahead with that game.
The game in Brussels was set to pit the No. 1-ranked team in the world — Belgium — against the two-time defending European champion Spain in a warm-up match ahead of next year’s Euro 2016 tournament.
Before the cancellation, the Spain players had said they weren’t worried about the security situation.
“If we’re going it’s because it’s safe, we’re calm,” Spain defender Marc Bartra said.
Belgium is also set to host the Davis Cup final against Britain in Ghent later this month.