Covid curse may haunt greedy Euros: Neil Humphreys
Pandemic brings both hope and fear at worst time for tournament played across multiple borders
Trust the Spaniards and Swedes to burst the bubble. Euro 2020 was supposed to be a symbolic victory over that infernal plague, not a constant reminder of it.
But four positive Covid-19 tests - two from Spain's squad, two from Sweden's - have underlined the invidious position of a bloated tournament kicking off at both the best and worst possible time.
On Saturday morning (Singapore time), the opener between Turkey and Italy is supposed to be a triumph of the human spirit. From isolated to vaccinated, we are ready to celebrate all that has been overcome.
And in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Spain and Sweden will meet in an awkward battle of the infected squads, showcasing our fragile vulnerability.
In other words, Covid-19 will potentially make or break Euro 2020.
The virus has already mocked the tournament's insatiable greed. The 11-city multiverse was a Marvel-like attempt to spin as many different narratives in as many different territories as possible to maximise profit across 51 matches.
Well, that won't really happen, will it?
Covid-19 has reduced stadium capacities, crippled travel across the continent and ruined those Uefa dreams of thousands of travellers spending millions on official food and drink sponsors at dozens of fan zones.
Wembley still hopes to host around 22,500 supporters in the group stages, maybe more when the semi-finals and final come around, despite the fact that fresh infections are increasing to around 6,000 a day in the UK.
The greatest race of Euro 2020 is the one between vaccinations and hospitalisations in the host cities. Whichever wins determines what kind of tournament will be remembered.
When the Euros was originally conceived as a 24-nation event played across multiple borders, Britain was still part of the European Union, the only regular testing involved footballers peeing into cups and England supporters didn't boo their own players for anti-racism gestures.
Political tensions and public health concerns threaten to ignite in the coming weeks leading to a familiar existential debate about upcoming events.
Should spectators still be allowed if cases rise? What happens if entire squads must isolate after a positive test? Will the Three Lions walk off if the racist booing persists?
Such angst only reveals that umbilical cord between football and society, reminding us yet again that when society sneezes, football catches a cold, takes a test and puts the tournament in jeopardy.
Then the football starts. And something magical happens because something magical always happens.
Of course, the distinctly non-magical will dominate. The Euros will experience the joyless wonder that is the video assistant referee for the first time and the 51 games probably won't throw up dozens of classics after a long, exhausting season.
But there are positives. As long as the Delta variant doesn't spread, crowds will return. Among the hosts, the Three Lions actually have a decent chance and the Scots are around to contribute to a feisty battle of Britain.
Cristiano Ronaldo finds himself surrounded by accomplished technicians in the Portugal line-up. Germany have recalled Thomas Mueller and Mats Hummels and rediscovered their mojo. Belgium and Spain could go all the way or go home early and Kylian Mbappe may be alone at the summit if he shines for France.
These are the broad strokes.
But there will also be a moment, a turn, a flick, a strike, a beautiful combination of mind and body that'll yank your backside off the sofa.
And Covid-19 will be forgotten. That's the hope.
But then the news filtered through that Spain defender Diego Llorente and captain Sergio Busquets both returned positive tests, forcing the entire squad to isolate, just days before their opener against Sweden.
The same Swedes, incidentally, are also isolating after winger Dejan Kulusevski and midfielder Mattias Svanberg tested positive. That's the fear.
Euro 2020 can either be a festival of solace or a compromised reminder of our restricted reality. There's no middle ground.
An entire tournament is poised on a knife-edge.