The quarter-finals of Euro 2020 begin on Friday with the tournament being blamed for a surge in coronavirus cases as fans have flocked to stadiums, bars, and spectator zones across Europe to observe the action while the pandemic still raged.
Belgium combat Italy in Munich and Spain meet Switzerland in St Petersburg within the first two last-eight matches on Friday but the build-up to those matches was overshadowed by the planet Health Organization saying on Thursday that the blending of crowds in host cities, travel, and easing of social restrictions had driven up the number of latest cases rose by 10%.
A 10-week decline in new infections across Europe had come to an end and a replacement wave is inevitable if football fans et al. drop their guard, WHO senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said in Copenhagen.
“We got to look much beyond just the stadiums themselves,” Smallwood told reporters. “We got to check out how people get there, are they traveling in large crowded convoys of buses? And once they leave the stadiums, are they going into crowded bars and pubs to observe the matches? These events were driving the spread of the virus,” she said.
With Covid-19 restrictions varying from nation to nation, crowd sizes have ranged from completely full, like 60,000 in Budapest, to 25-45 percent capacity in other venues where there have often been around 10-15,000 spectators.
European football’s administration UEFA said it had been fully aligned with local health authorities’ guidelines at every venue.
“The final decisions with regards to the number of fans attending matches and therefore the entry requirements to any of the host countries and host stadiums fall into the responsibility of the competent local authorities, and UEFA strictly follows any such measures,” it said during a statement.
But German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said UEFA’s position was “utterly irresponsible”.
“I cannot explain why UEFA isn’t being sensible…I suspect it’s thanks to commercialism,” he told a press conference.
Seehofer said a match with 60,000 spectators — like Hungary’s Puskas Arena and also planned for the semi-finals and final at London’s Wembley stadium — would inevitably promote the spread of Covid-19.
BELGIUM combat ITALY
On the tournament front, ‘Belgium are anxiously waiting on the fitness of stars Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard for his or her showdown against Italy.
Thorgan Hazard fired Belgium into the last eight with the goal that knocked out holders Portugal, but the fitness of his brother Eden and De Bruyne is Belgium’s main concern before facing the Azzurri in Munich.
De Bruyne came off early within the last half against Portugal with an ankle knock, while Belgian captain Hazard injured a hamstring late within the game. Neither trained Wednesday with Belgium’s medical staff working round the clock to urge them to fit to face Italy.
Romelu Lukaku will likely be the most attacking threat for Belgium and he knows the Italians only too well.
Lukaku has scored three goals within the tournament thus far and enjoyed one among the simplest seasons of his career in 2020-21, voted player of the year in Italy’s Serie A as he fired Inter Milan to their first top-flight title in 11 years.
Belgium, who try to win their first major football tournament three years after a finish at the planet Cup, haven’t lost in 13 games and are the top-ranked team in the world. The Italians haven’t been beaten during a national team record 31 matches, though they were taken to overtime by Austria within the round of 16.
“Italy is going to be the toughest opponent we’ve met thus far,” said Belgium forward Thorgan Hazard. “It’s a pleasant challenge to beat them after a run of 31 unbeaten games. I estimate the chances 50-50.”
Both teams won all three of their group matches, and with France, Portugal, Netherlands, and Germany all eliminated from Euro 2020, the winner in Munich will definitely be among the favorites for the title.
“We must still believe ourselves,” Italy midfielder Jorginho said. “The most serious mistake would be to think that we’ve already done something great.”
SPAIN FACE SWITZERLAND
In Friday’s other quarter-final, free-scoring Spain looks able to emulate their serial-winning predecessors, although Switzerland is precisely the sort of team they hate to face.
Spain won their first knockout tie since lifting Euro 2012 to beat Croatia 5-3 and become the highest-scoring side within the tournament with 11 goals after netting just one occasion in their first two games.
There was even more excitement among Spanish fans when unfancied Switzerland stunned world champions France after returning from 3-1 right down to draw 3-3 and prevail on penalties.
Yet albeit Swiss lack world stars like France’s Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema, or Kylian Mbappe, Spain must be prepared for an extended evening finding their way through Vladimir Petkovic’s disciplined side, which can be missing captain Granit Xhaka due to suspension.
Xhaka was selected as UEFA’s man-of-the-match after Switzerland beat France to advance to their first quarter-final match at a serious tournament since the 1954 World Cup.
Denis Zakaria, a defensive midfielder for Borussia Moenchengladbach, would be the foremost likely replacement for Xhaka, but coach Petkovic was giving little away on Thursday.
“The natural thing I would like to ascertain tomorrow is that everyone has got to give 10% more because this is often not almost replacing Granit Xhaka but what’s needed to win the sport,” Petkovic said. “I am convinced as a team we’ve tons of other leaders on the pitch and that we will show that.”
History is on Spain’s side, though, having lost just one occasion in 22 meetings against Switzerland, a 1-0 defeat in South Africa that sparked their run to the 2010 World Cup title.
“The quarter-final depends on us, not our rival,” said Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon. “It wouldn’t matter if it were France, the Swiss, Ukraine — we are here to win so we’ve to face and beat the simplest .”