The upcoming Euro 2020 Championship is encircled in much speculation and, already one year late in happening, this edition of the tournament which has thrown up a lot of entertainment in past decades will certainly be one like no other previously.
Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has plagued the world for well over one year and brought with it a halt that has caused much interruption and delays to the sporting calendar, there is somewhat of a cautious optimism that lies in wait to greet arguably the second most popular international football tournament.
It has almost crept up on us without too much media coverage and as a result, it will be interesting to see how much attention that it gets once the domestic season has been completed in its entirety. Interestingly as well, when you look at the current transfer speculation, not much has been said about clubs wanting to get deals over the line before the tournament. It is usually the case that player’s values surge on the back of a good international summer tournament and there have been many examples of this in past years, though, there seems to be almost a hesitancy or forgetfulness from the press in eluding to this.
One significant difference for this year’s tournament though is that matches will be played at multiple venues around Europe and this has led to speculation around how much of a difference this will have for different teams. While in the past, two countries have played host (Poland & Ukraine), it could be argued that this didn’t have much of an effect, though, on the back of a turbulent last 18 months that has seen much change due to circumstances outside of everyone’s control, this could have a significant impact.
Since the tournament was postponed in March 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19, revised venues were approved by the UEFA committee on 23 April 2021, with 11 host cities across different countries now staging the tournament.
What Countries Could Benefit The Most?
At least one country in each of the six groups will play at least one of their games in their home nation and in some cases, there are two in each group. Under normal circumstances, this would lead to speculation that this is perhaps unfair on certain countries, and as a result, questions would be asked as to why the tournament could not be hosted in just one country.
While this edition of the tournament was already planned under this multiple-host format, COVID-19 has arguably had an effect on which countries can now play host and as a result, these countries can use 25 percent of their stadium capacity under UEFA ruling. Originally Dublin (Republic of Ireland) had been designated games, however, with COVID-19 still not under control, their games have been moved to St Petersburg, while Wembley has taken one of their last 16 matches.
With still over one month to go until the tournament, starts, it could see host cities change, if a sudden outbreak of COVID-19 occurs and it will be interesting to see whether a new city is awarded matches or whether they will go to existing hosts.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see whether there are travel restrictions imposed during the tournament in order to prevent fans from certain countries flying in to soak up the atmosphere or ‘tournament fever’, though there are certainly some countries that could benefit.
It appears that England, which appears to be one country in Europe that is leading the way with vaccinations against the virus will stage the majority of games, particularly for the latter stages of the tournament, with Wembley being given the green light for five of these games. These include two last 16 games (which could feature England if they top Group D), both semi-finals and the final.
In Group D, England benefit from playing all of their games at Wembley, and interestingly, Scotland who are also in their group (in a repeat of Euro 1996), and who are also listed as a host nation, will have to play their fierce rivals in London and not Glasgow.
While it has been mooted that Wembley could allow a limited amount of fans for games, this will certainly give England an advantage, though it remains to be seen whether the same will apply for Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, and vaccination levels are likely to influence this.
Certainly, Scottish fans who live in England and who have received vaccines will likely have the opportunity to be admitted into Wembley if they are lucky enough to get a ticket, though the likelihood is, that the majority of fans for this game will be English. However, that could change, if Scottish fans travelling from north of the border are allowed to enter England if they have a ticket for the game.
There is still much uncertainty in other host countries about whether fans are going to be allowed to be admitted into stadiums. In Group A, Wales must face the disappointment of not being able to host games and as such have to travel to Rome (Italy) and bizarrely Baku (Azerbaijan), where they will face Switzerland. As well as Italy in this group, Turkey could be the other beneficiaries, with Azerbaijan just a short trip east and then west to Rome.
Holders Portugal will have to play in Budapest (Hungary) and Munich (Germany), which is interesting considering that Lisbon’s two stadiums hosted the latter stages of the Champions League when it resumed in 2020, with World Cup winners France being their other opponents in Group F.
Belgium, with their ‘golden generation’ will have to make do with a quick commute to Copenhagen (Denmark), though St Petersburg (Russia) could provide the biggest test, with Finland expected to prop up Group B.
What About Those With No Home Advantage?
In an interesting twist to this summer’s tournament, as well as the top two teams from each group going through to the next stage, there will also be spaces for four of the best third-placed teams.
This approach will provide an incentive for those teams who will not benefit from having home advantage and in the case of Group F, this is where Portugal and France could both edge out hosts Hungary and qualify with what is likely to be joint group hosts Germany.
Group C provides a curious scenario, with only one country benefiting from home advantage; The Netherlands, with games being played in Amsterdam. While other countries in the group include previous joint-hosts Ukraine plus North Macedonia and Austria, it is Bucharest (Romania) that gets the nod from UEFA to stage the rest of the games in a group that the Dutch are expected to top. The third-place format here could provide a considerable motivation in this group, where anything could happen from second place downwards.
An Edge At Wembley In The Latter Stages?
While England is easily the obvious choice, in terms of other countries, you could perhaps look a little deeper. Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has come out of retirement for Sweden for the tournament will feel perfectly home at a place where he scored one of the most spectacularly outrageous goals against the Three Lions and would relish the chance to revisit the stadium, probably for one last time.
Meanwhile, Thomas Muller, who, if picked for Germany, was a crucial component in the Bayern Munich side that beat Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in the 2012/2013 Champions League final. Similarly, the same could be said of Jerome Boateng (again, if picked) as well as goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer, who had a game to remember that night in Uxbridge. Winger Leroy Sane, meanwhile, has tasted success at Wembley with former club Manchester City.
Ultimately, once a team gets to the later stages of a tournament, they have proven that they are good enough and anything can happen on the day. What will be interesting is if England does not make it that far, how much of an effect that fans will have, especially if these are mostly English and who they align themselves with.