Euro 2020, the 16th UEFA European Championship, has so far lived up to its hype and has generated so many talking points on and off the field of play and stadiums across Europe.
The quadrennial international men’s football championship of Europe, which is being held in 11 cities in UEFA countries, was initially scheduled to hold from June 12 to July 12, 2020.
It was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosting the tournament in 11 countries across Europe, as against one or two host nations, fuelled curiosity among football enthusiasts who feared that the decision could diminish the excitement usually attached to such football fiesta.
Then UEFA president, Michel Platini, had said in 2012 that this edition of the championship was to be hosted in several nations as a “romantic” event to mark the tournament’s 60th birthday.
So far, there have been standout precedents observed by football stakeholders.
Here are four of them:
From the very first blast of the whistle —- at the opening match between Italy and Turkey at the Stadio Olimpico —- there was no doubt that fans were in for an intriguing tournament.
Many football enthusiasts believe that Euro 2020 brought back the excitement of international football which heavy-spending European club football had deprived the tournament.
One of the football fans who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said the tournament has brought out the best of international football.
“I have been watching the Euros since 1996 and I think the last time the tournament has been this interesting was in 2004.
“In spite of the pandemic, its postponement and fatigue on players from last season, Euro 2020 is a joy to watch. No game has been a walkover,” he said.
Tournament of upsets and dark horses
In recent times, this is the Euro tournament with the highest level of unpredictability in terms of match outcome.
In the group stage, there were periods when it seemed like Spain, Portugal, Croatia and Germany were not going to make it out of their various groups.
For instance in Group E, comprising Sweden, Spain, Slovakia and Poland, Spain had to wait for their last group game to record a win to finish second behind Sweden.
Only Italy, Belgium and Netherlands recorded maximum points in the group stage.
In the round of 16, Netherlands, one of the tournament’s favourites, were bundled out by Czech Republic, while Spain had to dig deep in extra-time to see off Croatia.
And in what is undoubtedly one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament, Switzerland defeated world champions and tournament’s outright favourites, France.
The Swiss were seconds to exiting the tournament before they drew level 3-3, forced the game to extra time and went on to win 5-4 on penalty shootout.
The video assistant referee (VAR) system makes its debut at the European Championship in this tournament and thanks partly to it, officiating has been near-perfect in Euro 2020 thus far.
There have been a few moments when a team could feel a little hard done, but there is a unanimous agreement that the quality of refereeing has been nothing short of excellent.
Some football enthusiasts have also attributed the good quality of refereeing partly to the exchange programme between UEFA and the South America Football Confederation (CONMEBOL).
The arrangement saw some referees from Europe sent to South America to officiate at the ongoing Copa America, while referees from CONMEBOL headed the other direction.
Fans are football’s heartbeat
Thirteen venues were initially penned down for Euro 2020. However, Brussels In Belgium was removed in 2017 after work halted on its proposed stadium.
Dublin, Ireland was also removed in April 2021 over doubts about spectators attending the games, while Spain changed its venue from Bilbao to Seville to allow crowds at the venue.
With the excitement fans brought to the grounds, those decisions have paid off significantly.
From Baku to Budapest, Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, and Rome to London, football fans who have been starved of attending live matches over the past 18 months have proved that football is lifeless without spectators.
Wembley Stadium will host the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 and fans are hoping that full capacity of spectators would be approved for those matches, having been hosting at half capacity.(NAN)