An in-form Italy face Turkey in Rome on Friday as Euro 2020 finally gets underway a year behind schedule and with the coronavirus pandemic casting a shadow over the tournament.
Postponed 12 months ago because of the pandemic, the European Championship — with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal the holders — is being played for the first time all across the continent, with 11 cities from as far apart as Seville to Baku hosting matches.
In Rome, the Stadio Olimpico will be filled to about 25 percent of capacity, meaning 16,000 supporters will be present to watch Roberto Mancini’s Italy face Turkey in the first game in Group A.
Mancini has rebuilt Italy, the 1968 European champions, and led them on a 27-match unbeaten run.
Wembley Stadium in London will host the semi-finals of the 24-team tournament as well as the final on July 11.
As anticipation grows, the build-up has been overshadowed by several positive Covid-19 cases.
Spain’s squad were vaccinated on Friday morning by the army at their Las Rozas training headquarters near Madrid following positive tests to two of their players — Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente.
Spain even had to name a “parallel” squad of 17 reserve players, fearing a possible wider outbreak in the official 26-man squad.
But despite the ongoing threat, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has been bullish, insisting the Euro will be safe.
The clearest illustration of that is set to come from Budapest, where it is hoped the new Puskas Arena will be packed to capacity.
Munich will host just 14,000 fans — around 22 percent of the Allianz Arena’s capacity, the lowest of the stadiums being used.
Dublin and Bilbao were dropped from the list of hosts after being unable to give guarantees they could meet UEFA’s requirement of accommodating limited numbers of spectators, but Seville stepped in for Bilbao while Dublin’s games went to London and Saint-Petersburg.
Holders Portugal, with Ronaldo backed up by a star-studded squad, and Hungary complete a tough-looking Group F.
In England, there are hopes Gareth Southgate’s young side could take advantage of playing most of their games at Wembley.
bur-as / nr / gj