ROME: In this file photo taken on April 20, 2021 The trophy of the UEFA Euro 2020 football competition is pictured on Sant’Angelo bridge in Rome. – AFP

PARIS: The pan-European format has been derided, the tournament postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, host cities have been dropped and matches moved, but Euro 2020 finally gets underway next week when Italy face Turkey in Rome on Friday, June 11. Following the unprecedented decision to postpone the competition in March last year at the start of the pandemic, the health crisis is not over and COVID-19 will continue to cast a shadow over this European Championship.

However, five years after Portugal overcame an injury to Cristiano Ronaldo to defeat France and win Euro 2016 in Paris, and three years after the French won the World Cup in Russia, anticipation in Europe is now building towards another major tournament summer. There is no shortage of candidates among the 24 nations, not least France as they look to repeat their feat of two decades ago, when they followed winning the 1998 World Cup with victory at Euro 2000. That this Euro is taking place in 11 cities across 11 different countries is down to a Frenchman — it was the idea of Michel Platini during his time as president of UEFA.

Venue changes, crowd limits
There were initially 13 host cities before Brussels was sidelined and before the pandemic intervened. In April Dublin and Bilbao were dropped too. Neither the Irish government nor authorities in the Basque Country were able to assure UEFA that fans could attend. Seville replaced Bilbao while Dublin’s games went to London and Saint-Petersburg.

The remaining venues — Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Saint-Petersburg and Seville — have all confirmed fans will be allowed to fill between 25 and 100 percent of capacity, with the exception of Munich, which said it aims to host at least 14,500 fans at the Allianz Arena.

UEFA has insisted on having spectators despite ongoing challenges for governments, the different health situation from one country to the next and the threat of more contagious variants. That is why Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter said in April there had been “no promises, of any kind, to guarantee spectators”. Despite it all, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has been bullish, insisting Euro 2020 will be safe. “It will be the perfect opportunity to show the world that Europe is adapting. Europe is alive and celebrating life. Europe is back,” he said recently.

However, no travel exemptions are necessarily being made for ticket-holders, meaning those entering countries from abroad could have to quarantine on arrival. They may simply not be allowed in at all. Fans who are able to get in will be assigned time slots to arrive at stadiums.

Croatia and the Czech Republic have abandoned plans to base themselves in Scotland because the Scottish government’s coronavirus quarantine rules meant their entire squad risked having to isolate if one player tested positive. Concerns over possible virus clusters led to UEFA allowing nations to name expanded squads of 26 players. Fatigue after a long season may also impact on the quality of football, but competition for the title will be fierce.

The contenders
France have Karim Benzema back after a long international exile and they look a fearsome proposition as they target a tournament double. “There are obviously big expectations after the success we have had and that is the aim of this squad, of this generation,” coach Didier Deschamps told AFP recently. An England side who have the carrot of knowing both semi-finals and the final will be played at home are a genuine threat, and then there are the usual contenders like Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium, as well as a revitalized Netherlands.

There is also the holders. “For a long time now we have gone into tournaments not just to compete but to win,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos told A Bola. They won’t be going into many more tournaments with Ronaldo, who is 36 now. Portugal’s group, also containing France and Germany as well as Hungary, will focus much attention in the first round, along with England’s clash with Scotland at Wembley.

Scotland are just delighted to be at a major tournament for the first time in 23 years. England, meanwhile, are yet again going into a summer dreaming of a first title since winning the 1966 World Cup at Wembley, where this year’s final will take place on Sunday, July 11. – AFP