The COVID-19 pandemic has led to chaos in all areas of life, and the sporting calendar has not escaped the turmoil. One enormous change has been to UEFA’s flagship national team football competition: Euro 2020 has become Euro 2021.
How will the delay affect the tournament?
In terms of dates, the tournament will now be played in June and July 2021, with games staying as they were, just moving forward by one day. 20 of the 24 finalists are already known, while 16 teams have recently been scrapping it out for the four remaining slots via the competition’s play-offs. All will be revealed on 12 November when the final round of matches take place, with Hungary, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Serbia, Scotland, Georgia and North Macedonia still in the mix. Should Northern Ireland and Scotland progress, it will be a qualification clean sweep for the UK. Mouth-wateringly, Scotland would qualify into England’s group, setting up a repeat of their famous Euro 1996 clash.
There could be a major change in venues – unlike previous tournaments, which have either been held in one country or joint hosted by two countries, EURO 2020 is due to be held in twelve cities across the whole of Europe in celebration of the competition’s 60th anniversary. With the new surge in COVID-19 infections in the autumn of 2020, although UEFA are confident it will still go ahead, they admitted in October that the championship could be held in less cities or even in one country. It is still not known if matches will be played in full stadiums, with reduced capacities or without spectators altogether.
What of the teams themselves?
The delay will make a lot of difference for many nations, with some teams benefitting while others will have their prospects damaged. Factors such as age and form will come into play.
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Teams set to benefit:
After a strong performance at World Cup 2018 and with distinct home advantage for the Euros they were already one of the favourites to do well, but a distinct loss of form and injuries to key players means the delay is good news. Most notably, Harry Kane suffered a serious hamstring injury in early January 2020 and faced an uphill battle to recover in time – his absence would have been a hammer blow to England’s chances. He is back now and looks in great form, scoring freely for Spurs. The squad still looks somewhat like a work in progress, but with another year, emerging talent like Phil Foden, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho could become first team fixtures.
The very personification of the “tournament team” reached the semi-finals in Euro 2016 but had an awful World Cup in 2018, being eliminated at the group stage for the first time since 1938. The team was very much between generations and have been in the process of rebuilding – but with another 12 months to bed in players like Kai Havertz, Timo…