Czechs Upset 10-Man Netherlands To Reach Euro 2020 Quarter-Finals


Czech Republic’s players celebrate after winning during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 27, 2021. Attila KISBENEDEK / POOL / AFP

 

The Czech Republic reached the Euro 2020 quarter-finals Sunday after shocking 10-man Netherlands 2-0 in their last-16 tie in Budapest thanks to second-half strikes by Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick.

A header by Holes and clinical finish by Schick came after Matthijs de Ligt was sent off in the 55th minute, securing the efficient Czechs a deserved berth in the last eight against Denmark in Baku on July 3.

Having emerged as Group C winners with a 100 percent record after playing all three of their games in Amsterdam, Frank de Boer’s fancied Netherlands were on the road for the first time in the tournament.

Roared on by boisterous ranks of orange-clad fans in a packed Puskas Arena, the only Euro 2020 venue not to limit stadium capacity as an anti-coronavirus precaution, it was the livelier Dutch who dominated the opening exchanges.

On eight minutes a floated cross by Danny Blind evaded Tomas Vaclik in the Czech goal but De Ligt’s header across the goalmouth was sliced well wide by Memphis Depay.

Then Denzel Dumfries, raiding on both wings, was released on the left soon after but, with Vaclik again flailing, couldn’t direct his header into the open goal.

But after soaking up the early pressure Jaroslav Silhavy’s well-organised side, who qualified as one of the four best third-placed sides, began posing threats of their own with a series of dangerous counter-attacks.

Tomas Soucek, who took over the captain’s armband from the injured Vladimir Darida, glanced a dangerous header just wide at full stretch midway through the period.

Then Antonin Barak, fed by Lukas Masopust, blasted a left-footed effort high and wide when through on goal approaching the break.

Early in the second period the advantage swung decisively the Czechs way when De Ligt was sent off by the Russian referee Sergei Karasev after a VAR review.

Bayer Leverkusen striker Schick, scorer of all three Czech goals in the group stage, put De Ligt under pressure, prompting the Juventus defender to blatantly knock the ball away with his hand to deny a goalscoring opportunity.

READ ALSORonaldo Equals World Record For Most International Goals 

Netherlands supporters react during the UEFA EURO 2020 round of 16 football match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Puskas Arena in Budapest on June 27, 2021. BERNADETT SZABO / POOL / AFP

 

Midway through the half, with the Czechs scenting blood, Pavel Kaderabek should have got the opener while in space in the area but saw his shot blocked.

Then 68 minutes in a curled free-kick from the right by Barak was headed across goal by Tomas Kalas to the unmarked Holes who had time to place his header and spark bedlam among the Czech fans.

Ten minutes from the end Schick sealed the win with his fourth goal of Euro 2020, slotting home with his left foot at the near post after the rampant Holes pounced on a loose ball and laid on a clever cut-back.

In truth, a man down, the hapless Dutch never looked like catching the Czechs who were comfortable at the end, chalking up their fourth straight win over the Oranje in front of jubilant fans.

AFP

Austria Beat Ukraine To Reach Euro 2020 Knockout Phase


Austria’s players celebrate after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between Ukraine and Austria at the National Arena in Bucharest on June 21, 2021. MARKO DJURICA / POOL / AFP

 

Austria edged to a 1-0 victory over Ukraine in Bucharest on Monday to secure a last-16 place at Euro 2020 ahead of their opponents.

Christoph Baumgartner’s 21st-minute strike sent Austria through as Group C runners-up, with Ukraine left to wait to see if they will qualify as one of the four best third-placed sides.


Austria’s German coach Franco Foda (C) celebrates with his players after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between Ukraine and Austria at the National Arena in Bucharest on June 21, 2021. Daniel MIHAILESCU / POOL / AFP

 

Austria will play Italy at Wembley on June 26 after advancing from the group stage at a major tournament for the first time since the 1982 World Cup.

Ukraine, eliminated in the group stage at the past two European Championships, must wait to find out if they advance as one of four best third-placed teams.

Andriy Shevchenko had ruled out his Ukraine team playing for the draw they needed to finish as runners-up, having snapped a run of six straight losses at the competition with their 2-1 win over North Macedonia.

Austria coach Franco Foda recalled Marko Arnautovic after the forward missed the 2-0 defeat by the Netherlands while serving a one-match ban for insulting a North Macedonia player in their opening game.

READ ALSO: Christian Eriksen: Denmark Midfielder To Have Defibrillator Implanted Following Cardiac Arrest

Needing victory to be assured of a place in the next round, Austria went ahead as Baumgartner beat 18-year-old defender Illia Zabarnyi to Alaba’s corner and poked beyond Georgiy Bushchan.

Ukraine came close to an equaliser when Mykola Shaparenko drew a good low save from Daniel Bachmann, the rebound just eluding a lunging Andriy Yarmolenko, who had scored in the first two group games.

Baumgartner’s evening ended prematurely due to injury and his replacement Alessandro Schopf soon set up Arnautovic, the former Stoke man dribbling wide moments after Konrad Laimer’s curling effort was punched away by Bushchan.

Austria nearly handed Ukraine a way back into the match when Stefan Lainer headed Viktor Tsygankov’s free-kick towards his own goal, but Bachmann reacted well to preserve the victory and a spot in the knockout phase.

AFP

Euro 2020: Netherlands See Off David Alaba’s Austria To Book Place In Last 16


Netherlands’ defender Denzel Dumfries (hidden) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal with his team-mates during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between the Netherlands and Austria at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 17, 2021. JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

 

Memphis Depay’s early penalty set the Netherlands on the way to a 2-0 win over Austria in Amsterdam on Thursday, their second straight victory at Euro 2020 securing qualification for the last 16 already as winners of Group C.

Depay made no mistake from the spot in the 11th minute after David Alaba’s foul on Denzel Dumfries was spotted by the Israeli referee only after he had come across to review the images.

READ ALSO: Christian Eriksen: Denmark Midfielder To Have Defibrillator Implanted Following Cardiac Arrest


Netherlands’ forward Wout Weghorst (C) has a shot during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between the Netherlands and Austria at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 17, 2021. Peter Dejong / POOL / AFP

 

Dumfries, so impressive in the thrilling opening 3-2 win over Ukraine, added another midway through the second half, his second goal of the tournament.

The Dutch were comfortable at home in the Johan Cruyff Arena and Frank de Boer’s side are so far making a success of their first major tournament appearance since the 2014 World Cup.

That is great news for De Boer, whose predecessor as national coach, current Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman, was among the spectators.

Ukraine beat North Macedonia 2-1 earlier in Bucharest and, with head-to-head the first tiebreaker, the Dutch now cannot be caught at the top of the group.

They have six points, while Austria and Ukraine have three and North Macedonia nothing.

That means De Boer can rest players for the final group game against North Macedonia on Monday, safe in the knowledge that the Dutch will be going to Budapest for a last-16 tie on June 27 against a third-place finisher.

De Boer said coming into the Euro that the 1988 champions were “between the fourth and eighth-best team” and already they can see their path opening up to the quarter-finals.

They will still need to improve if they are to stand a chance of going any further, but they appear to be finding their feet in the 3-5-2 system that De Boer has controversially opted for.

Still hope for Austria


Austria players including (L-R) Austria’s defender Martin Hinteregger, Austria’s midfielder Marcel Sabitzer and Austria’s midfielder Florian Grillitsch react after the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between the Netherlands and Austria at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 17, 2021. JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

Austria, after all, are a mediocre side and were not helped by the penalty carelessly given away by Alaba, their captain and best player.

Franco Foda’s side were also handicapped by the absence of Marko Arnautovic, suspended for insulting an opponent after coming off the bench and scoring against North Macedonia.

Foda had said he was in line to start here.

Austria can nevertheless still qualify for the last 16 with a game against Ukraine to come.

Whoever comes second in this group will play the Group A winners — either Wales or Italy — in London on June 26.

If the Dutch King and Queen were present at their first match, this time FIFA president Gianni Infantino was in the stands, as well as Koeman.

Depay, out of contract at Lyon, hinted on the eve of the game that he is set to team up with Koeman in Barcelona.

The former Manchester United man believes he is good enough to play for a club of Barcelona’s stature, and he confidently stroked home the early spot-kick awarded following a VAR review for Alaba’s foul on Dumfries.

He then missed a sitter just before half-time, failing to hit the target after Wout Weghorst teed him up.

It was from a Depay corner that Weghorst nodded the ball down for Stefan de Vrij to see his effort from point-blank range saved by Austria goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann on the hour mark.

Moments later De Boer shook things up with a triple change, including sending on PSV Eindhoven forward Donyell Malen for Weghorst.

And midway through the second half it was Depay who released Malen to run through and square for Dumfries, one of the stars of the tournament so far, to score.

Koeman will also have been impressed with another assured display by Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong in midfield, while Matthijs de Ligt cruised through the game in defence on his return from injury.

AFP

Ronaldo Ready For ‘Perfect’ Euro 2020 Bow In Front Of Full House

Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo shouts during the international friendly football match between Portugal and Israel at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon in preparation for the UEFA EURO 2020 football competition, on June 9, 2021. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

 

Cristiano Ronaldo said on Monday he was looking forward to beginning Euro 2020 in front of a packed Puskas Arena against Hungary as he prepares to lead defending champions Portugal in their search for a repeat triumph.

At 36 years old, Ronaldo is set take the field in front of 68,000 fans in the Hungarian capital on Tuesday in what should be Portugal’s simplest match in a tough Group F alongside Germany and world champions France.

“It’s perfect. I wish every single venue could host a full house. It’s great for viewers and players, but sadly it’s not up to us to decide,” said Ronaldo.

“We know the pandemic has its influence. I wish we could always play before a full house.”

Portugal have lost Joao Cancelo from their squad to Covid-19 after the Manchester City right-back tested positive for the virus on Sunday, but Ronaldo says the team are not worrying about the pandemic.

“We don’t talk about Covid because we’re tired of it. It’s a sad situation but we’re focused… Nothing will shake us… We’re just focused on playing.

“I think the team is ready, physically and emotionally. The players are young but that doesn’t stop us from dreaming. I know all the players are ready.”

The Portugal captain is set to become the first person to play in at least one match at five European Championships, and also has another record in sight.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

Adjust and adapt’

Portugal’s forward Cristiano Ronaldo kicks the ball during the international friendly football match between Portugal and Israel at the Jose Alvalade stadium in Lisbon in preparation for the UEFA EURO 2020 football competition, on June 9, 2021. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

 

He needs just five more goals to equal Iranian Ali Daei’s all-time mark of 109 international goals, a feasible target at this summer’s tournament should Portugal go deep.

“I’m not the same player I was 18 years ago, 10 years ago, five years ago… you keep adjusting,” said Ronaldo.

“I’m more mature, if a player wants to play for many years he needs to learn how to adapt. From 18 to 36 years old I’ve learned to adjust and adapt, and I’ve always been able to win personally and collectively.”

A win over the Magyars would go a long way to ensuring Portugal qualify for the next round at least as one of the tournament’s best third-placed teams as coach Fernando Santos targets two Euro titles in a row with a talented squad.

“Right now we think we have what it takes to win the cup,” said Santos.

“There are very good opponents, seven or eight teams are playing to take the trophy home, and there are dark horses who also think they have a chance. The only difference is that we hold the title.”

Hungary captain Adam Szalai is also looking forward to running out with a huge crowd behind him and his team as the group underdogs aim to somehow claim a place in the knockout stages.

Mainz forward Szalai said that the 2019 opening of the Puskas Arena was one of his “best ever memories” and is relishing the chance to play in a major tournament in his own country.

“That a Hungarian team can take part in a tournament that is being hosted here in Budapest is like a dream come true for all the players,” he said.

“If someone had told me as a kid that I would take part in two Euros in a row and that one of them would be hosted in Budapest I don’t think I would have had the words to express my feelings, now I’ve just one sleep to go to experience it.”

AFP

Netherlands Defeat Ukraine In Five-Goal Euro 2020 Thriller 


Netherlands’ defender Denzel Dumfries (C) is congratulated for the third goal by teammates during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between the Netherlands and Ukraine at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 13, 2021. Olaf Kraak / POOL / AFP

 

Denzel Dumfries scored a dramatic late winner as the Netherlands marked their long-awaited return to a major tournament with a 3-2 victory over Ukraine in a remarkable Euro 2020 game in Amsterdam on Sunday.

Dumfries, the PSV Eindhoven full-back, headed in a cross from substitute Nathan Ake to complete a madcap second half after the home side eased into a two-goal lead and then threw it away.

Captain Georginio Wijnaldum and Wout Weghorst both scored before the hour mark in front a raucous crowd at the Johan Cruyff Arena, only for Ukraine to silence the home supporters as Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk netted to briefly restore parity.

Frank de Boer’s side got there in the end and the victory will provide a major lift to the Netherlands after what was their first game at a major competition in seven years.

They will now hope to build on it on Thursday against Austria, who beat North Macedonia earlier in Bucharest in the same Group C.

It was a brilliant game, and a crowd of around 16,000 created an atmosphere fit for the occasion at the home of Ajax, where supporters held up banners with messages of support for Christian Eriksen following the Denmark star’s cardiac arrest on Saturday.

Eriksen made his name at Ajax before moving to Tottenham Hotspur in 2013.

After failing to qualify for Euro 2016 or the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the Netherlands were playing their first game at a major competition since beating hosts Brazil 3-0 to claim third place at the 2014 World Cup.

They had not won a game at a Euro in almost exactly 13 years, since Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie netted in a 2-0 win over Romania at Euro 2008.

The emergence of the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt has given supporters of the Oranje new hope for the future.

Those supporters were in fine spirits ahead of the game, bedecked in orange as they filled the bars around the ground in the blazing sunshine, thoughts of the pandemic appearing far away.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

A new-look Netherlands


Netherlands’ players celebrate their win in the UEFA EURO 2020 Group C football match between the Netherlands and Ukraine at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on June 13, 2021. JOHN THYS / POOL / AFP

 

Yet Dutch optimism has been tempered by selection problems facing coach De Boer.

Juventus defender De Ligt watched this game from the stand as he recovers from a groin injury, his absence added to that of fellow centre-back star Virgil van Dijk who is absent from the tournament with the serious knee injury that cut short his season with Liverpool.

Manchester United’s Donny van de Beek withdrew from the squad because of injury and first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was left out altogether after testing positive for Covid-19.

De Boer has switched to a 3-5-2 formation and he has real stars in Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong as well as Memphis Depay up front.

The system has helped Wijnaldum — who will join Paris Saint-Germain from Liverpool after the Euro — develop into a real goal-scoring threat from midfield while Dumfries was a constant threat down the right flank.

He should have scored late in the first half when he contrived to put a free header wide, after Ukraine goalkeeper Georgiy Bushchan had produced a fine save to keep out a deflected Wijnaldum volley.

The hosts got their reward shortly after the restart when Bushchan turned a dangerous low ball into the box by Dumfries out into the path of Wijnaldum who fired home.

Weghorst then lashed in a loose ball that came to him following more havoc wrought by Dumfries, and the Netherlands seemed to be on easy street.

Maarten Stekelenburg, at 38 the oldest player ever to represent the Netherlands at a major tournament, had not had much to do but then he was beaten in the 75th minute by a brilliant curling strike from Yarmolenko, the West Ham United winger.

Yaremchuk then headed in a Ruslan Malinovskyi free-kick and Ukraine — whose build-up to the tournament was overshadowed by a row about patriotic slogans on their shirt which upset Russia — looked set to leave with a draw, but then Dumfries appeared.

AFP

England Win Euro 2020 Opener As Denmark Confirm Eriksen Cardiac Arrest

Denmark's players gather as paramedics attend to midfielder Christian Eriksen (not seen) during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021. WOLFGANG RATTAY / AFP / POOL
Denmark’s players gather as paramedics attend to midfielder Christian Eriksen (not seen) during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021. WOLFGANG RATTAY / AFP / POOL

 

England launched their bid for Euro 2020 glory with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday as Denmark’s team doctor confirmed Christian Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and was “gone” before being resuscitated.

Raheem Sterling scored at a sun-baked Wembley as England won their opening game of a European Championship finals for the first time at the 10th attempt.

But the action on the pitch was overshadowed by the fallout from the shocking events in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium the previous day.

Inter Milan star Eriksen suddenly collapsed in the 43rd minute of Denmark’s Group B game against Finland, lying motionless as medics administered CPR and the crowd looked on aghast.

The game was temporarily suspended awaiting updates on Eriksen’s health, but resumed later in the evening after reports filtered through that the player was in a stable condition and awake. It ended in a 1-0 win for debutants Finland.

“He was gone, and we did cardiac resuscitation, and it was cardiac arrest,” team doctor Morten Boesen told a press conference on Sunday, adding that so far there was no explanation for what had happened.

“How close were we? I don’t know. We got him back after one defib (defibrillation), so that’s quite fast.”

Players in the Danish team were given the option to continue the game or postpone the match but head coach Kasper Hjulmand said he regretted the decision to carry on.

“I honestly don’t think that we should have been on the pitch again,” he said.

Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite called the incident “one of the scariest moments of my life”.

“I’m grateful that he’s stable and alive. Right now, that’s all that matters. Hope to see you soon my friend,” he tweeted.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

England make winning start

England’s forward Raheem Sterling (C) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal with England’s midfielder Kalvin Phillips (L)e during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on June 13, 2021. Glyn KIRK / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester City’s Sterling scored his first goal at a major tournament as England gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia.

The forward’s sharp finish in the second half was enough for the home side to send the Wembley crowd home happy.

Sterling grew up in the shadow of London’s Wembley and justified manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to keep faith with him by scoring the only goal just before the hour.

“I always said if I played at Wembley in a major tournament, I’m scoring. I had to score in my back garden and delighted to do that,” he told the BBC.

Southgate said: “I’m so pleased for Raheem, he’s had this hex in the tournaments. I felt he was dangerous all day. Right from the start he looked a threat.”

England’s coach Gareth Southgate embraces England’s forward Raheem Sterling as he leaves the pitch after being substituted during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on June 13, 2021. Catherine Ivill / POOL / AFP

 

There were fears before the match that supporters would boo players for taking the knee to protest against racial injustice as they had done before pre-tournament friendlies.

There was a smattering of jeers from sections of the 22,500 crowd, but the majority cheered the gesture.

England, seeking to end a 55-year wait for a major trophy, are playing all three group games at their London home. If they top Group D they will also play there in the last 16, while London is also the venue for both semi-finals as well as the final on July 11.

The Netherlands, back at a major tournament for the first time since 2014, play Ukraine in Amsterdam on Sunday, deprived of the services of the long-term injury absentee Virgil van Dijk but still able to call on a wealth of talent including Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

Ukraine’s pre-match preparations have been marred by a row with Russia over their jersey that features patriotic slogans and the outline of Ukraine that includes Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

North Macedonia lost 3-1 to Austria in their first match in a major tournament as an independent nation in Bucharest, despite an equaliser from 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev.

The coronavirus, which delayed the tournament for a year, is still proving a major headache.

Portugal defender Joao Cancelo has tested positive for Covid-19 and is out of Euro 2020, the defending champions announced.

Diogo Dalot has replaced the Manchester City right-back in the Portuguese squad, with the titleholders opening their Group F campaign against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday.

The Russian, Spanish and Swedish squads have also been hit by positive tests.

World Cup holders France — with Karim Benzema recalled from a five-and-a-half-year international exile — are the favourites to win the continental crown.

They begin their campaign against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, also in Group F.

AFP

Chelsea’s Ruediger Ready To Get ‘Dirty’ In Germany’s Opener Against France 

Germany’s defender Antonio Ruediger wears a protective mask during a training session on June 4, 2021, in Seefeld, Austria, where the German national football team attends a training camp ahead of the European football championship 2020-2021. Christof STACHE / AFP

 

Chelsea defender Antonio Ruediger insists Germany need to get a little dirty in their Euro 2020 opener against France on Tuesday in order to subdue the world champions’ forward firepower.

France start as clear favourites for the Group F clash at Munich’s Allianz Arena while Germany’s defence faces a stern test having leaked 20 goals in 13 games this season.

Fresh from winning the Champions League final with Chelsea, Ruediger insists the Germans can ill afford to allow France’s star forwards like Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann room to attack.

“Of course, they have good forwards, we have to be ready to win the one-on-one challenges,” Ruediger said Sunday at Germany’s Euro 2020 base in Bavaria.

“We have to be a little dirty, not always be nice or try to play nice football.

“Against players like them, you have to throw down a marker.”

He is set to make his 42nd appearance for Germany having become “a very important player” for head coach Joachim Loew who regards him a “centre-back of the highest level”.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

Germany’s defender Antonio Ruediger (R) vies for the ball with Latvia’s defender Raivis Jurkovskis during the friendly football match between Germany and Latvia in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on June 7, 2021, in preparation for the UEFA European Championships. Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

 

Ruediger sees France as one of the favourites to win the European Championship title and says Germany must “dictate the game. We can, and are ready, to do that.”

France warmed up for Euro 2020 with 3-0 friendly wins over both Wales and Bulgaria, while Germany were held to a 1-1 draw by Denmark before a 7-1 rout of minnows Latvia.

Ruediger, 28, is set to partner 2014 World Cup winners Mats Hummels and Matthias Ginter in Germany’s three-man defence.

The Chelsea centre-back is wearing a mask to protect a facial injury suffered during Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final, first leg draw at Real Madrid.

“It’s still there for protection,” Ruediger said of the mask, “I’ll have to see what the Chelsea doctors say when I get back to London.”

AFP

Euro 2020 Finally Set For Kick-Off Under COVID-19 Cloud

UEFA-Euro-2020-Logo-London
Photo: UEFA

 

The delayed Euro 2020 will finally get underway on Friday, a year behind schedule, with Covid still set to cast a shadow over the tournament.

The continent-wide event, first envisaged by then-UEFA president Michel Platini when he announced the tournament would be held across Europe, will be played in front of limited crowds and with strict health restrictions in place.

The action kicks off at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, where Italy take on Turkey in front of 16,000 fans.

Spain’s preparations for the month-long tournament have been hit after two players, Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente, tested positive for the virus, although Llorente on Thursday returned a negative test.

The team even had to name a “parallel” squad of 17 reserve players, fearing a possible wider outbreak in the official 26-man squad.

Although captain Busquets still has Covid, Llorente’s test result will allay fears that the first-choice side might have to miss Spain’s opening game against Sweden in Seville on Monday.

Two Swedish players — forward Dejan Kulusevski and midfielder Mattias Svanberg — have also tested positive for the virus, with six reserve players called up on stand-by.

But despite the ongoing threat, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has been bullish, insisting Euro 2020 will be safe.

“It will be the perfect opportunity to show the world that Europe is adapting,” he said. “Europe is alive and celebrating life. Europe is back.”

This handout provided by UEFA shows UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin giving a press conference closing an executive Committee meeting at the UEFA headquarters on June 17, 2020 in Nyon. Harold Cunningham / UEFA / AFP.

 

The clearest illustration of that is set to come from Budapest, where it is hoped the new Puskas Arena will be packed to capacity.

But the majority of the 11 venues, all in different countries, will only be partially-filled for matches, although Denmark on Thursday announced it would lift mask rules and allow 25,000 fans, instead of 16,000, to attend games in Copenhagen.

Munich aims to host a minimum of 14,500 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.

READ ALSO: [Super League] ‘Big Six’ To Pay £22M Settlement To Premier League

 France the favourites 

File photo: France’s players listen to their national anthem before the kick off of the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying Group H football match between France and Andorra on September 10, 2019 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris. Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

On the pitch, France will be firm favourites despite being one of the few traditional giants not to have any games at home. The world champions’ first match is in Munich against Germany on Tuesday.

“All the other countries envy us,” said a recent front page of French sports daily L’Equipe underneath pictures of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann.

All eyes will be on 33-year-old forward Benzema, who was recalled after an international exile of five and a half years following a prolific season for Real Madrid.

Holders Portugal, with a star-studded squad led by Cristiano Ronaldo, and Hungary complete a tough-looking Group F.

The other likely contenders among the 24 nations include Belgium, sweating over the fitness of key player Kevin De Bruyne after he suffered facial injuries in the recent Champions League final, and usual suspects Spain and Italy.

In England, there are hopes Gareth Southgate’s young side could take advantage of playing most of their games at Wembley.

England have never before reached a European Championship final, but captain Harry Kane believes the team will start their bid in a “better place” than they were before reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

Ukraine, Russia in shirt row


A picture taken on June 6, 2021 shows a EURO 2020 jersey of the Ukrainian national football team. Ukraine provoked Moscow’s ire on June 6, 2021 as its football federation unveiled Euro 2020 uniforms that feature Russian-annexed Crimea and nationalist slogans.  STRINGER / AFP

 

UEFA has also demanded that Ukraine make changes to its jersey after Russia complained.

European football’s governing body said the message “Glory to the Heroes”, a rallying cry during the 2014 anti-Russia protests in Ukraine that is featured inside the shirt, was “clearly political in nature” and must be removed.

However, the Ukrainian football association said it was in talks with UEFA to reverse its decision.

The association said to AFP that “earlier UEFA had approved the new kit and every element of it, including the slogan”.

The build-up to the tournament has also seen controversy over the anti-racism gesture of taking a knee, which many teams have said they will continue to do before games.

England players were booed by some of their own supporters for kneeling in their warm-up matches, while Croatia said on Thursday their players would not be asked to make the gesture and Scotland said their team would stand.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he agreed with supporters booing players for the anti-racism protest.

AFP