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Wales and the world’s top-ranked team Belgium begin their Euro 2020 bids on Saturday after the tournament started delayed by the victory of an impressive Italian side on an emotional evening in Rome.
After a year of football played largely in empty stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Stadio Olimpico was filled to a quarter of its capacity for the opening game of the European Championship and home supporters in the crowd of 16,000 were treated to a 3-0 victory for Italy against Turkey.
Roberto Mancini’s side entered the tournament on a 27-game unbeaten streak and stalled with a complete victory, with Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne scoring after Merih Demiral’s goal put them in front.
The result capped a moving evening in the Italian capital as a spectacular sound and light show preceded the kick-off and tenor Andrea Bocelli performed “Nessun Dorma”, popularized at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
“It was a beautiful evening, I hope there will be many more to come,” Mancini said after the Group A curtain-raiser.
“Winning 3-0, and finally with the fans in the stadium, it’s even more special.”
Rome is one of 11 cities on the continent to host matches, with the unprecedented pan-European format creating major headaches for UEFA during a pandemic.
– ‘Particular situation’ –
The majority of venues will only be partially filled for matches, although Budapest plans to fill its Puskas Arena to 100% capacity.
The matches take place from as far away as Sevilla in Baku in Azerbaijan, where Wales and Switzerland meet in the first of three matches on Saturday.
However, ongoing travel restrictions mean there is little of the carnival atmosphere typically associated with a major tournament when fans converge on host cities.
“We all have to adapt to a particular situation,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told AFP.
The build-up has been overshadowed by several positive cases of Covid-19 among gamers.
Russia announced on Friday that winger Andrei Mostovoy had contracted the virus and was excluded from the tournament.
The Spanish team were vaccinated on Friday by the military at their training headquarters near Madrid following positive tests on two players, Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente.
Busquets will miss Monday’s game against Sweden in Sevilla, but Llorente has now joined the squad after four subsequent negative tests.
– “A huge honor” for Bale –
In Baku, up to 31,000 fans will be able to watch the first match on Saturday, when Wales – Euro 2016 semi-finalists in France – face the Swiss in Group A with Gareth Bale wearing the captain’s armband.
“It will be a huge honor to lead your country in a major tournament. It will be one of the highlights of my career,” Bale said.
This match, at 13:00 GMT, will be followed by Denmark’s clash with Finland in Copenhagen in Group B.
Denmark, European champion in 1992, will be stimulated by 16,000 of its own supporters against Finland.
Kasper Hjulmand, Denmark’s coach, said his side “dared to dream big” as they prepare to face a side from Finland making their major tournament debut.
Belgium, one of the main contenders, will face Russia in St. Petersburg in Saturday’s late game, but Roberto Martinez’s side will be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who is still recovering from facial fractures he has seen. he suffered while playing for Manchester City in the Champions League final.
Among the other main contenders, England will enter the fray on Sunday and hope to make the most of the home advantage when they face 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in London.
Wembley hosts eight games in total in the 24-team tournament, including the two semi-finals as well as the final on July 11.
– Ukrainian shirt line –
France, champion of the World Cup, with Karim Benzema recalled from an international exile of five and a half years, is the big favorite to add the continental crown.
Supporters of Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo backed by a star team, are also a threat.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian football association said on Friday it had managed to agree to a compromise with UEFA on Euro 2020 kits which feature patriotic slogans and have sparked Russia’s ire.
Kiev angered Moscow after its football association unveiled kits showing the contours of Ukraine, including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.
Russia criticized a slogan written inside the shirts – “Glory to the Heroes”.
A UEFA spokesperson told AFP that Ukraine had agreed to cover up the slogan with a smaller map of the country.
© 2021 AFP