The delayed tournament kicks off in Rome on Friday with a total of 24 teams playing across 11 cities.
Italy have defeated Turkey 3-0 in the opening match of the delayed Euro 2020 football tournament, the world’s biggest sporting event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Azzurri made a deserved breakthrough eight minutes into the second half of Friday’s match when Domenico Berardi hit the byline and Merih Demiral turned into his own net.
Ciro Immobile ended defensive Turkey’s unlikely chances of equalising on the 66th minute, while Lorenzo Insigne added a late third.
The tournament started a year later than planned due to the pandemic but the Italian fans in Rome’s Olympic Stadium, open to 25 percent of capacity, were given something to cheer. Fans needed to have proof of vaccination, a negative test or have already had COVID-19.
The Italian capital is one of 11 cities that will host football matches during the month-long event.
“After all that’s happened, now that the situation is getting better, I think the time has come to start providing fans with something to be satisfied about,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini told reporters before the match.
More than one million Europeans have died in the pandemic, including almost 127,000 Italians. Some 3.7 million people have lost their lives worldwide.
The tournament was postponed in March 2020 when countries were scrambling to contain virus outbreaks and major sporting events around the world were cancelled or put on hold.
Mark Doyle, deputy features editor at Goal.com, said just holding the tournament at all was a major victory in itself.
“If you had asked me two or three months ago if Rome would be in a position to stage a match, I would have said absolutely not, the numbers were still too high,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t been deeply affected by this in terms of the loss of a loved one … so, just getting fans into the stadium, I think is a massive achievement,” he said.
While many worry that it is still not safe to bring many fans together in stadiums across Europe, organisers hope measures including crowd limitations, staggered arrival times for fans and physical distancing rules, among others, will help prevent a resurgence of virus infections, which have dropped sharply in Europe in recent months.
If everything goes smoothly, Euro 2020 can give a confidence boost to other major sporting events such as the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to open on July 23 – also a year late. If it does not, it would be a serious setback that could have ramifications beyond football.
COVID-19 has already had an effect on the tournament, which for the first time is not being hosted by one or two nations but is spread out across the continent.
Spain captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the team’s first match against Sweden in Seville on Monday. Another Spain player tested positive, as did two of Sweden’s players. The Spanish squad was getting vaccinated on Friday.
Russia winger Andrey Mostovoy then became the first player to be cut from a national team on Friday after testing positive.
Italy’s opening match against Turkey will bring together the biggest crowd in the country since it went into a full lockdown 15 months ago, even though the stadium will be filled to only 25 percent of its capacity.
In Rome and elsewhere in Italy, most virus restrictions have been lifted. A midnight curfew and a requirement to wear a mask outside one’s home are the most tangible ways in which the pandemic still affects the daily lives of citizens.