In the days before the start of a major international tournament, talk is usually focused on surprise selections, tactical tweaks, injury doubts and fierce rivalries. Those discussions remain, but the delayed opening of Euro 2020 on Friday has minds turning to travel rules, quarantines, bubbles and testing.
Spain captain Sergio Busquets had to return home to a period of isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last weekend. Though it was later found that the virus had not spread to other players, Spain were forced to call up several players to act as coronavirus reserves in a separate bubble from the main squad.
The positive test also meant Spain fielded an under-21 side, coached by under-21s boss Luis de la Fuente, in the senior team’s final warmup match against Lithunia on Tuesday. The 2012 winners may have won 4-0 but none of their Euro 2020 squad took to the field. Sweden have faced similar problems after positive cases in their squad while six Scotland players missed their friendly against the Netherlands last week after a positive test for John Fleck.
Though some football associations, including Spain’s, are trying to secure vaccines for their players ahead of the tournament, it seems certain that disruptions to squads will be a feature of Euro 2020. Players who test positive during the tournament will have to isolate in the same way that Fleck, Busquets and others have done.
Final in London! With 90,000 seats, the rebuilt stadium in Wembley will be the largest arena at Euro 2020. Even if the historic splendor of the “Old Wembley” has gone, its replacement is still imposing. In addition to three group games and a round of 16 match, both semifinals and the final will also take place here. But will England still be there?
The Allianz Arena is the pride and joy of Bayern Munich. Built as a pure soccer stadium with a capacity of 67,812 seats, it meets UEFA’s highest standards. The stadium’s illuminated oval-shaped outer shell is worth seeing. During the Euros, Munich will host the three first-round matches of the German national team, plus a quarterfinal.
The Olympic Stadium in Rome seats 72,700, but is in need of renovation. In 1987, the Athletics World Championships were held in this stadium, as well as the 1990 World Cup. It was the venue for the German team’s successes in the 1980 Euros and in Italia 90. Three preliminary round matches and a quarterfinal will be played in Rome.
The new National Stadium of Azerbaijan, which opened in March 2015, holds 69,870 spectators. It replaced the small Tofik Bahramov Stadium as the home ground of Azerbaijan’s national team. In 2019, Chelsea won the Europa League final here against Arsenal. At Euro 2020, Baku will get three group games and a quarterfinal.
The Kretowski Stadium in St. Petersburg, also known as the Gazprom Arena, was built for the 2018 World Cup. The arena seats 69,000 spectators and stands on the site of the old Kirov Stadium, which was demolished in 2006. The construction costs were immense, at around €930 million. The arena will host three group matches and a quarterfinal in 2021.
Home of Danish giants FC Copenhagen, Parken is one of the smallest stadiums at Euro 2020 with just over 38,000 seats. The impressive infrastructure of the city and the modern nature of the stadium were in its favor though. In the inaugural match at the stadium in 1992, Denmark lost 2-1 to Germany in a friendly. This time, three preliminary round matches and a round of 16 match are planned.
The 52,960-capacity arena, named after Holland’s famous number 14, is one of the most innovative stadiums at the European Championship. The arena has a retractable roof and is equipped with special lights that control the growth of the grass. It already played host to matches at Euro 2000. Twenty-one years later, Amsterdam will host three group matches and a round of 16 game.
The new Romanian National Stadium was built from 2008 onwards on the same site as the old National Stadium, which had stood since 1953. It has a capacity of 55,600 and hosts the international matches of Romania. At Euro 2020, three preliminary round matches and round of 16 games will be played here.
Because the city’s two major soccer clubs — Real Betis and Sevilla — have their own stadiums, soccer games are rarely played at the Estadio Olimpico. It seats 57,619 spectators. Bilbao was originally planned as the venue, but was dumped by UEFA because the Basque regional government could not guarantee the presence of spectators during the coronavirus pandemic.
The stadium, named after one of Hungary’s best soccer players, is where the Hungarian national soccer team plays most of its home games. In recent weeks, the stadium has often been an alternate venue in the Champions League — for RB Leipzig and Borussia Mönchengladbach, among others. At the European Championship, three group matches and one round of 16 match will be played here.
The 52,500-capacity arena was the largest soccer stadium in the world until the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro opened in 1950. Hampden Park, usually home to the Scottish national team, will host three group games and a round of 16 match at Euro 2020, although Scotland’s game against England will take place at Wembley. Both Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen have lost European Cup finals here.
Tournament organizers UEFA have said that matches “will go ahead as scheduled as long as the team has at least 13 players available (including at least one goalkeeper).” UEFA has also allowed squads to be expanded from the usual 23 to 26 players and increased substitutions to five, with an additional one in the case of extra time. Countries can also call up additional players in the event of an outbreak but must remove the same amount of players from the tournament squad to do so.
There is also provision for matches to be rescheduled “within 48 hours” if teams don’t have 13 players available at a venue of UEFA’s choosing, with any team unable to field a side after that forfeiting the match 3-0. Given quarantine requirements, travel restrictions and the frequency of testing, walkover wins or second string squads remain a distinct possibility. Given the positive tests in the Spain and Sweden camps, their clash in Seville on Monday could be the first real test of the new regulations.
The threat of late notice relocation of matches, due to outbreaks in squads or the wider population, is bound to be of concern to fans whose plans to follow their teams have been made chaotic not just by the pandemic but by UEFA’s decision to hold games in 11 stadiums spread across the continent.
As it stands, the Puskas Arena in Budapest is the only stadium set to operate at full capacity. Arenas in Baku and St. Petersburg will be at 50% and the rest, like Wembley (minimum 25% of capacity) and the Allianz Arena in Munich (22% capacity), will be around a quarter full.
But, like everything else, these numbers could change with restrictions eased and tightened on a daily basis across Europe. Hopes for a full house in London for the July 11 final were raised by UK government policy to ease almost all restrictions by June 21 but the rise of the Delta variant has put that in significant doubt.
With many ticket holders having already returned their tickets, only the vaccinated, brave, fortunate and financially stable have any hope of following their team in the way that’s been such a feature of past tournaments. Even if they do make it, there’s every chance some of the best players will not.
The son of a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother, Kylian Mbappe has deep roots in Africa. Mbappe was just 19 when he was part of the French team that won the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He is just one of several French players of African heritage, including Paul Pogba (Guinea), N’Golo Kante and Moussa Sissoko (both Mali), Ousmane Dembele (Ivory Coast) and Karim Benzema (Algeria).
Belgium’s record goal scorer has roots in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where his parents were born. Lukaku helped lead his side to third in the 2018 World Cup. There are other Belgium players with African heritage, including fellow strikers Michy Batshuayi and Christian Benteke (DR Congo) as well as Jeremy Doku (Ghana).
“My whole family comes from Africa,” says the German defender, whose parents escaped the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s and headed to Berlin. Germany’s Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala also have African roots. Sane’s father, the ex-Bundesliga player Souleymane Sane, was born in Senegal while Gnabry’s dad is from Ivory Coast and Musiala’s father hails from Nigeria.
Alaba could also have played for Nigeria, his father’s homeland. The defender, who is leaving Bayern after 13 years, opted for his birth country of Austria. Bundesliga players Valentino Lazaro (father from Angola) and Karim Onisiwo (father from Nigeria) are also in the Austria squad for the Euros.
The striker was born in Cameroon. His mother emigrated to Switzerland with her two sons when Embolo was six, with his father staying in Africa. The Swiss squad for the European Championship boasts other Bundesliga players with African roots, including Denis Zakaria (father from DR Congo, mother from Sudan) and Kevin Mbabu (mother from DR Congo).
Memphis Depay’s father comes from Ghana. He left the family when the Dutch forward was a small boy – and that is why he often uses his first name on his jerseys. Nathan Ake (father from Ivory Coast) is also in the Netherlands squad for the Euros.
The defensive midfielder already won the European Championship with Portugal in 2016 and now the Angola-born Carvalho is back for more. He was born in the Angolan capital Luanda but moved to Portugal as a child. Other players in the Portuguese squad with African roots include Danilo Pereira (born in Guinea-Bissau).
Sweden striker Alexander Isak’s parents come from Eritrea. He spent two years under contract at Borussia Dortmund and now plays for Real Sociedad. Mainz’s Robin Quaison (father from Ghana) and Ken Sema (parents from DR Congo) are also in the Sweden squad for the European Championship.
The Finland midfielder just won the Scottish league title with Rangers. His parents are from Sierra Leone and he was born in the Finnish city of Tampere. He learned his trade at Arsenal’s youth academy.
The 19-year-old’s parents emigrated from Nigeria to England. He was courted by the Nigeria team but opted for England – with his inclusion in the Euro squad a slight surprise. He has played across the pitch for club side Arsenal and should be a useful utility player for the Three Lions.