It seemed ambitious nine years ago when UEFA announced it would host the 2020 European Championship in 13 different cities on the continent.
Last year, it seemed optimistic when UEFA decided to stick to a 12-city plan following the postponement of Euro 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was declared.
Euro 2020 will now start in 11 cities, separated by four time zones and up to 4,700 kilometers (3,000 miles).
Still, the strange, one-time hosting plan seems to be the best result that fans can hope for, as the coronavirus continues to restrict international travel.
Nine of the 11 hosts – all except Azerbaijan and Romania – qualified for the 24-team tournament, giving tens of thousands of fans a chance to see at least two home games.
This is a better result than having a host country, such as France in 2016 and Germany in 2024, which are likely to close borders for many visiting fans. In 2012, the strongest participant in the 2020 tournament was Turkey, a country that had just been taken away for the second consecutive year in the Champions League final.
“We have the great advantage of having a lot of home teams,” UEFA Tournament Director Martin Cullen told The Associated Press.
More than 50,000 Hungarian fans could be in the Puskas Arena in Budapest to watch the host team play World Cup champions France and defend European champions Portugal in Group F.
About 30,000 Russians must be admitted to the stadium in St. Petersburg to see their team host the highest-ranked Belgium and neighboring Finland in Group B.
Cullen acknowledged that the logistics of the late transition to a single-host option are “generally impossible” as the pandemic grows in the European winter.
And not necessarily safer.
UEFA has hired Switzerland’s top public health official who oversaw last year’s pandemic response, Dr Daniel Koch, as a Euro 2020 crowd adviser. He saw the risk in 24 fan groups moving around in one. country.
“I think it was a wrong assessment to think that it would be much easier if (Euro 2020) was only in one (place),” Koch told the AP.
Having 12 different hosts while Dublin dropped out in April has given UEFA flexibility and a wide range of governments focused on health and safety issues.
“The risk (of a local epidemic) is much lower,” Koch said.
Problems with fans were the uncertain factor this year, as UEFA proved last August with the mini-tournaments of the Champions League and Europa League that teams can travel and play safely.
The European 55 national teams have also played League of Nations matches, Euro 2020 playoffs and 2022 World Cup qualifiers with few breaks, although some players have been eliminated by positive tests and self-isolation.
Travel by private plane and strict UEFA-driven protocols at airports and hotels, limiting contact with staff and other customers, are now the norm for international players.
Only two national team matches were canceled, both in November. Norwegian public health officials stopped the team from traveling to Romania, and players from Ukraine were quarantined in Switzerland.
“The discipline of the teams and the professional approach were very good,” said Cullen, noting that “it is not easy for young players to be constantly in the bubble.”
A widely acclaimed pass includes two young England players in Iceland during the first international holiday of the season in September.
Team PCR tests are mandatory the day before the games, organized by UEFA, which hired a German lab last year to complete the program and deliver results at least six hours before the start.
And UEFA is prepared for the outbreak of Euro 2020. Games can be postponed for up to 48 hours if more than half of the test teams are positive by importing substitutes.
Cullen said that players with positive tests are his biggest concern for Euro 2020, which adds a month and 51 games to the already stressful and busy season.
“There are legitimate concerns that the quality (of the game) will be affected by the level of fatigue,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the FIFPRO players’ union.
The game is most at stake at the end of the season, he warned, after “the longest period of exposure to intensity. They are already exhausted when they get there. ”
And yet the football show continues. UEFA, fans, players and TV operators want Euro 2020 to happen, and many of the continent’s federations depend on grants from the $ 2 billion they earn.
Koch said he believed UEFA had found the right balance.
“If we plan, we make balloons, we test, things like that, a lot more is possible than you think at the beginning,” the doctor said, “and closing everything is not the only solution.”