Here it is, then. A year after it was supposed to start, with stadiums only partly occupied by fans and at least one of the favorites already sweating a potential coronavirus outbreak, Euro 2020 finally gets underway in Rome on Friday.
It has not been an easy road to this day, for either UEFA, the competition’s organizer, or the 24 teams who qualified. Most of the players scheduled to represent their nations are coming off the back of long, compacted seasons, ones that might affect their performance levels over the next month.
There are, meanwhile, still lingering concerns that the coronavirus pandemic, and the travel restrictions in place across Europe to try to slow its spread, might yet force the relocation of at least one game. Spain has had to call up a separate, shadow squad of players after two of its first-choice squad tested positive for the virus.
For all the chaos and all the exhaustion, though, the first game — Italy’s meeting with Turkey — brings with it a notable flickering of excitement, melting away the logistical concerns.
Italy’s players were taken to Rome on Thursday night on a specially-decorated train. The opening ceremony at the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital is supposed to invoke happy memories of the 1990 World Cup, the last major tournament the country hosted. And Belgium and England, two more of the favorites, are slated to play over the weekend. It has been a long wait. The hope, now, is that it was worth it.
In Germany, Toni Kroos missed the start of Germany’s preparations after testing positive for it. In Russia, the health authorities say cases are on the rise in St. Petersburg, which will host seven games, and the national team cut a player on Friday after he tested positive. That result came after Spain and Sweden each had two players test positive only days before their teams were to meet in the group stage.
The coronavirus is stalking Euro 2020 even before a game has been played. The pandemic has already delayed the tournament for a year, and forced officials to expand rosters and reduce the size of crowds in most cities. Yet the virus is still causing havoc.
Spain’s health ministry said this week that it would provide vaccine shots to every player on the country’s national team after two — Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente — tested positive on the eve of the tournament. On Friday, the country’s soccer federation released a video documenting the shots.
📺 Así ha sido el proceso de vacunación de los jugadores de la @SeFutbol en la Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Rozas.
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) June 11, 2021
“While this is great news for us, I hope that we don’t have any adverse effects before the match,” said midfielder Thiago, who was infected with Covid-19 last year.
Spain Coach Luis Enrique, who named only 24 players to his squad, even though the rules permitted 26, said Thursday that he still planned to use both players once they are cleared to play. Llorente has since returned a negative test, raising hopes that his initial positive was wrong, and Busquets will be back after his 10-day quarantine, which has ruled him out of Spain’s opener against Sweden on Monday.
“We are going to wait for him,” Luis Enrique said.
Russia was not as patient. It cut winger Andrey Mostovoy after his positive test and replaced him with defender Roman Evgeniev. Russia’s coach, Stanislav Cherchesov, said testing Thursday night and Friday morning confirmed — at least to him — that no other players were affected.
“Everyone is clean,” he said.
Hungary’s nationalist leader, Viktor Orban, has had his say. Britain’s populist prime minister, Boris Johnson, has weighed in, too. Euro 2020’s biggest controversy so far has been about what takes place in the final seconds before matches kick off, rather than what fans can expect when games actually begin.
The debate — about whether players should take a knee in solidarity with social justice movements before games — has only grown sharper since England’s team was jeered by a section of its own fans for taking a knee before two recent exhibition games. The players have vowed to continue to kneel during the European Championship, starting with their opening match against Croatia on Sunday in London. Prime Minister Johnson’s office, after initially saying fans had the right to boo them if they chose to, reversed course late in the week and now says it supports the players’ gesture.
A few days ago, Johnson’s spokesperson said: “On taking the knee, specifically, the prime minister is more focused on action rather than gestures”
Imagine the optics of fans booing players at the upcoming matches was not one No10 wanted to side with.
— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) June 11, 2021
Yet on Tuesday in Budapest, which will host games in Euro 2020, Ireland’s national team was greeted with a cascade of jeers when its players took the knee before a tuneup against Hungary. Orban stoked further controversy by accusing the Irish players of “provoking” the home spectators.
“We can’t interpret this gesture in any other way, looking at it from our cultural point of view it’s an incomprehensible thing, a provocation,” Orban said.
The issue will continue to be a flash point during the tournament. Scotland on Friday said its team — which had stopped taking the knee in March — would join England in the gesture when the teams meet next week. “Given the events around the England national team, taking the knee in this tournament matters as a symbol of solidarity,” said Scotland’s captain, Andy Robertson.
Tournament organizers have expressed quiet concern about the reaction players who kneel will receive in locations where racism continues to be a major problem.
Antiracism monitors will be at more than 50 games during the tournament, part of a longstanding program at high-risk fixtures. The monitors will file live reports to UEFA if they hear discriminatory language or see far right banners or insignia in stadiums.
Kevin De Bruyne, the engine of Belgium’s offense, will not play in his team’s first game against Russia, Coach Roberto Martinez said Friday. De Bruyne is still training alone after having an operation to repair a fractured nose and eye socket sustained while playing for Manchester City in the Champions League final last month.
Martinez said that he expected De Bruyne would rejoin full training after the team returns to its training camp near Brussels after Saturday’s game against Russia in St. Petersburg.
“The next two days will be really important, just to get him back to really being able to move freely and start getting the exercise needed before he can come to the group,” Martinez said.
De Bruyne, recently voted Premier League’s player of the year for the second straight season, had revealed his injuries after City’s lost to Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 29.
Hi guys just got back from the hospital. My diagnosis is Acute nose bone fracture and left orbital fracture. I feel okay now. Still disappointed about yesterday obviously but we will be back
— Kevin De Bruyne (@DeBruyneKev) May 30, 2021
De Bruyne arrived at Belgium’s camp on Monday after having a minor operation to repair his injuries. Belgium’s second game is against Denmark in Copenhagen on Thursday, and Martinez said Friday he was optimistic his star midfielder would be able to take part in it.
France is the current World Cup champion and has a collection of stars led by — but absolutely limited to — striker Kylian Mbappé. So it should come as no surprise that it is the favorite to win Euro 2020.
But the second and third favorites, by only a small margin, are more unexpected: England and Belgium, mostly because they rarely win anything.
England, which hasn’t won a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup but reached the semifinals of the 2018 event in Russia, is the second favorite at 7-1, based on the consensus of odds from bookmakers around the world. That’s not far-off mighty France’s 5-1 odds.
England could be helped, eventually, by playing some of the tourmanent’s biggest matches on home soil: the Euro 2020 semifinals and final all will be played at London’s Wembley Stadium. But England must make it that far to benefit, and given that its potential round of 16 opponent could be Germany or Portugal, followed by Spain in the quarterfinals, its presence at the end is by no means guaranteed.
As for Belgium, which has never won a major title, it currently boasts a golden generation of players who have led it to a surprising No. 1 world ranking, and it finished third at the 2018 World Cup. That has helped make it the third choice of oddsmakers at Euro 2020, at 7½-1.
Just behind are some more expected contenders like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany, all clustered around 9-1.
Who isn’t going to win Euro 2020? Well, if the oddsmakers are to be believed there are three teams with absolutely no hope: Hungary, Slovakia and Finland are all in the neighborhood of 1,000-1.
Even North Macedonia (500-1), at least today, is seen as having a better chance of lifting the trophy.
The European Championship, generally considered the biggest soccer tournament after the World Cup, is starting after a year’s delay. Here are some basics on how to watch, and what you might see.
How can I watch?
In the United States, the bulk of the games will be on ESPN, with a few on ABC. When two games are played simultaneously, one will run on ESPN2 instead. Games also will be streamed on ESPN+. Univision holds the Spanish-language rights in the United States.
Broadcasters elsewhere include Bell Media and TVA (Canada), BBC and ITV (Britain), Optus (Australia), M6 and TF1 (France), ARD and ZDF (Germany) and Wowow (Japan). Here’s a complete list.
When are the games?
Italy and Turkey will kick off the tournament on Friday in Rome, and after that there will be multiple games every day for two weeks. Until the third matches in each first-round group, which are played simultaneously, no games will be played at the same time. The 16-team knockout round begins with two matches on June 26. The final is July 11 in London.
(The South American championship, the Copa América, kicks off on Sunday in Brazil, runs concurrently, and concludes on the same day.)
While today’s news is the start of Euro 2020, the repercussions of the biggest crisis in the continent’s club scene are not over.
Almost two months after 12 elite clubs launched — and then quickly abandoned — a breakaway Super League that would have swept away the century-old structures that underpin the sport, those foundations remain uncertain.
European soccer’s governing body said this week that it has suspended a disciplinary investigation against the three most intransigent rebel clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus. UEFA’s decision came after it finally received an injunction issued by a Madrid court the day after Super League’s launch on April 18.
The injunction — which was also sent to global governing body FIFA — forbids any disciplinary action to be taken against the Super League clubs. UEFA had threatened to ban the three holdouts from next season’s Champions League unless they renounced the failed plan, but failure to comply with the court order could have led to civil or criminal action against UEFA and its senior officials.
UEFA said it would now try to overturn the measures issued by the Madrid court before restarting its disciplinary action. “I just want to say that justice is sometimes slow, but it always arrives,” UEFA’s president, Aleksandar Ceferin, told the Italian broadcaster Rai ahead of Friday’s Euro 2020 opener in Rome.
Meanwhile, the six English clubs who had joined the Super League on Thursday came to an agreement with the Premier League for their role. The teams — Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham — agreed to pay a collective 22 million pounds ($31.1 million) to resolve the matter.
The league also announced that any team involved in a future breakaway attempt faced a $35 million fine and a 30-point deduction in the league standings.