Euro 2020 experiment proves a hit on the pitch, less so off it

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It began with Italian celebrations in Rome and ended with Italian celebrations at Wembley.

This European Championship finally concluded with Italy’s penalty shoot-out win over England, a year after the tournament was postponed due to the health crisis.

The incidents when ticketless fans tried to break through ticket barriers at Wembley, leading to violent scenes, may have tarnished Sunday’s final in London.

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But overall Euro 2020 was an uplifting tournament for the football on the pitch and it marked the return of spectators on a large scale for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.

The intervening 12 months since the tournament was postponed saw football played almost entirely behind closed doors — contrast that with the official crowd of 67,173 at the final, and more without tickets who stormed their way into the stadium.

Organisers will have questions to answer about why more was not done to control the crowds, especially with virus cases in the United Kingdom surging.

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Euro 2020 was an experiment, a major tournament held for the first time all across Europe, with 11 host cities as far apart as Seville and Baku.

That led to enormous variations on the number of spectators at games, from the crowds in London and the full houses in Budapest to sparse attendances elsewhere, in Azerbaijan and Glasgow, as supporters found it almost impossible to travel to certain countries.

The different travel demands on teams was similarly unequal.

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While England played all but one game at home, Wales played twice in Azerbaijan and were deprived of supporters for their last-16 defeat by Denmark in Amsterdam due to restrictions imposed by the Dutch government.

“Written off before a bag of air was kicked, 3,000 miles from home,” Wales defender Chris Gunter said, criticising the “joke set-up of a tournament”.

The idea for a pan-European tournament was the brainchild of ex-UEFA president Michel Platini and will not be repeated, with Germany alone hosting the next edition in 2024.

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“It is an interesting idea but it is hard to implement and I don’t think we will do it again,” Aleksander Ceferin, the current head of European football’s governing body, told the BBC.

It was still a memorable month of football — with 142 goals in 51 matches, the average of 2.78 goals per game made this Euro the most prolific since 1976.

The last World Cup with a higher average was Spain ’82.

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There were memorable games, and unexpected stars, like the Czech Republic’s Patrik Schick and Italy’s flying left-back Leonardo Spinazzola.

Stars of major tournaments do not always carry that form back into their club careers though: Renato Sanches was the outstanding young player at Euro 2016 before his career stalled, while Eder was hardly boosted by scoring Portugal’s winner in the final five years ago.

Football rarely stops, and it is just five weeks until the next Premier League season commences.

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Meanwhile last Friday marked just 500 days to go until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

There are growing concerns about the demands being made of top-level players, not least after a Euro in which Denmark’s Christian Eriksen almost died on the pitch when he suffered a cardiac arrest.

“For the last four years, men and women players around the world have told us how the competition calendar does not adequately cater to, or even consider, their needs,” global players’ union FIFPro said in an open letter.

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“Conditions in and around the game leave you mentally and physically exhausted.”

Despite the fears about fatigue, much of the football at Euro 2020 was of the highest quality.

The last four World Cups have been won by European nations and the evidence of the past month suggests the continent’s leading sides will set the standard at Qatar 2022.

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Lionel Messi inspired Argentina to victory over Brazil in Saturday’s Copa America final, but it remains to be seen if those teams will be able to stop Europe’s powerhouses at the World Cup.

Italy are on a roll, while England will hope to go the extra step.

Spain have an exciting young team and Germany could get a new lease of life under new coach Hansi Flick, and then there is France, eliminated from the Euro by Switzerland but still world champions.

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