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.
Turkey and Italy have announced their lineups for the opening game. Capacity at the Stadio Olimpico is limited to 16,000 fans today, so expect the cheers from the crowd — mixed with fans of both countries — to be more muted than usual.
Turkey: Ugurcan Cakir, Zeki Celik, Merih Demiral, Caglar Soyuncu, Ozan Tufan, Okay Yokuslu, Umut Meras, Yusuf Yazici, Hakan Calhanoglu, Burak Yilmaz, Kenan Karaman
Italy: Gianliugi Donnarumma; Alessandro Florenzi, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Spinazzola; Nicolo Barella, Jorginho, Manuel Locatelli; Domenico Berardi, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne
Chiellini, 36, is hardly a surprise, but his presence is a link to Italy’s past failure in major tournaments. While veterans like Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli and Daniele De Rossi saw a missed World Cup in 2018 as a moment to step aside from the national team, to make way for others, Chiellini said this week that he saw it as a chance to double down.
“We really want to make things right, to make Italy a contender in a big international tournament again,” Chiellini said Thursday. “Because that defeat in Milan with Sweden is something that remains inside us and can never be erased.”
Everyone knows Harry Kane. Or at least they think they do. But no one ever struggles with how to say his name.
The same can’t be said for Croatia’s Sime Vrsaljko and Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu. So UEFA has published a helpful pronounciation guide for EURO 2020 players ahead the tournament.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Michy Batshuayi thank you for reading.
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.
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.
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.)
At one point, for reasons that presumably made sense in context, the coach and one of his assistants spent a few minutes onstage playing padel — a Basque version of tennis — with a set of frying pans. At another, three players were lined up in descending order of height and asked to perform as backing vocalists for someone who, apparently, self-identifies as a rapper.
Most of the countries competing in this summer’s European Championship announced their squads in the traditional manner. Italy, though — well, Italy went in a very different direction. It unveiled its players for the tournament during a variety show, broadcast live and late into the night, that did not actually conclude with confirmation of the squad. The federation never quite managed to fit it in, what with all the music and games and cooking equipment. Italy’s list was released on social media a couple of hours later.
The proceedings, though, created just the sort of impression Roberto Mancini — the pan-wielding coach — wanted.
The angst and the anguish of Italy’s dismal performances in major tournaments over the past decade have been thoroughly banished. Instead, as Mancini said while he stood onstage that night, broadcasting live to the nation, his frying pan laid to one side, he is going to try something novel.
“We will get the fans on board,” he said, “by having fun.”
Rory Smith of The Times took a long look at what he and his team have been up to.
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.
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.
“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.