Paris (AFP) – Postponed last year because of the pandemic, Euro 2020 finally kicks off in a month’s time when Italy face Turkey in Rome but the health crisis continues to cast a shadow over a tournament being held for the first time at venues all across the continent.
UEFA’s focus this week is on the headache of what to do with the Champions League final amid pressure from the UK government to move the all-English showpiece from Istanbul to England.
European football’s governing body has already dealt with similar difficulties surrounding the Euro, which will be staged in 11 cities, concluding with the final in London on July 11.
Dublin was due to be the 12th host but was dropped in April after local authorities refused to give guarantees about a minimum number of spectators attending matches.
Its games have been moved to Saint-Petersburg and London, while Bilbao was dropped for the same reason but Spain will still stage four matches with Seville stepping in.
After a year of football in empty stadiums, UEFA was determined supporters would be able to attend games at the 24-team European Championship.
– Munich: ‘No promises’ –
The remaining venues have all confirmed fans will be allowed to fill between 25 and 100 percent of capacity, with the exception of Munich.
The German city aims to host at least 14,500 fans at the Allianz Arena, but mayor Dieter Reiter said in April there had been “no promises, of any kind, to guarantee spectators”.
In contrast, Budapest could allow a full house of 61,000 at the Puskas Arena, albeit with “strict stadium entry requirements for spectators”.
Nevertheless, Euro 2020 will not quite be the pan-continental party envisaged when, under former president Michel Platini, UEFA announced the format of Euro 2020 to mark the 60th anniversary of the competition.
No travel exemptions are 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 a 30-minute time slot to arrive at stadiums, in an attempt to limit gatherings outside grounds.
After all that, there will be the football, and the hope is the second 24-team European Championship will live up to expectations on the field.
The list of contenders is a long one, and it remains to be seen which teams might benefit from the one-year postponement.
Twelve months ago England were sweating on the fitness of Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford before the tournament was put on ice. Now the wonder is how manager Gareth Southgate will accommodate emerging superstars like Phil Foden and Mason Mount.
With group games at Wembley, and the incentive of the semi-finals and final being played at home too, England may sense this is their chance.
– France aim for double –
Yet they can hardly ignore the multiple threats from elsewhere, not least the one directly across the Channel.
France, after all, are the reigning world champions and aim to repeat their performance in 2000, when they won the Euro as World Cup holders.
“You don’t just win titles with a click of your fingers,” France coach Didier Deschamps told AFP.
“The other nations are progressing. They’re not sitting still, but when a competition starts we want to go as far as possible.”
Portugal, who defeated France in the Euro 2016 final, will not give up their title easily, even with Cristiano Ronaldo now aged 36.
However, they are in the same group as both Les Bleus and Germany.
There are nevertheless big doubts about the Germans, in their last major tournament before Joachim Loew stands down as coach.
Since making a mess of the 2018 World Cup, Germany have not had their problems to seek, including losing 6-0 to Spain and then being beaten at home by North Macedonia in World Cup qualifying.
After their own 2018 World Cup debacle, when coach Julen Lopetegui left on the eve of the tournament, Spain look in better shape now under Luis Enrique and will be at home in Seville in the group stage.
The Netherlands and Italy are two more rejuvenated teams playing group games at home, while World Cup semi-finalists Belgium remain the top-ranked nation in the world and are another side to be taken very seriously when the football, eventually, takes centre stage.