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.
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.)