With the UEFA Euro Cup officially on track to go ahead this summer, former captain and current coach of the French squad, Didier Deschamps, called on the players to set their eyes on the prize as he aims for the double Euro/World Cup whammy for his team, despite the challenges this year has sprung on the sport.
As fans will recall, the French won the World Cup in Russia back in 2018 and the 52-year-old Deschamps himself piloted his national team to victory as captain in his day. But repeating this trick will not be simple, not least because France’s opening match is against the formidable Germany.
With a springtime of lockdowns and cancelled sport events across Europe, the European sporting world is looking towards the Summer which is shaping up to be a real spanker. After last year’s disheartening swathe of cancelled sporting events, the UEFA Cup is not the only international competition that is back in play following the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines: the XXXII Tokyo Olympiad is now just three months away. These two postponed quadrennial events, slated to go ahead in the face of adversity, promise to make this a summer one to remember.
Even without Deschamps exhortations, the pressure is on for Europe’s footballers who have one month to prepare before the hotly anticipated UEFA Euro Championship — the event which see European nations face-off in in an attempt to carry home the coveted silver trophy. Ever since the 2020 tournament was postponed due to coronavirus concerns, Europeans have carefully followed developments regarding the UEFA Cup. The event will take place just before the Olympic Games, with official kick-off on 11th June 2021.
The rejigged tournament is now slated to take place with important changes: first and foremost the fact that the event is hosted across eleven different cities from Baku to Bucharest – for the first time in its 60-year history. The host cities will no longer include Ireland’s Dublin or Spain’s Bilbao after they were deemed risky venues — local restrictions would make it difficult for fans to attend the games. But while matches will be spread across countries and have reduced attendance, the lack of screaming crowds is unlikely to adversely affect players who have grown accustomed to empty stands and recorded cheers.
At a time when Europe is deeply divided over vaccine distribution, entry requirements and post-Brexit fallout, the UEFA Cup will bring a dose of much needed positivity to the continent and might just help to squarely refocus attention on the quality of the sport and the players. This is especially needed in the wake of the Super League controversy that caused outrage among millions of football fans who decried the move to create an über-league as the “ultimate betrayal” of football’s roots and universal spirit.
Indeed, the “back to the roots” spirit of the Euro Cup is reflected by its mascot, Skillzy, who is inspired by the culture of panna – or street football – which has been a reality for so many Europeans this year, given that pitches have been kept under lock and key in order to reduce viral transmission. And so, the four-week long round of matches will be another important step towards normality, reviving the crushed hopes of fans after last year’s postponement.