FINAL TWEAKS MADE TO EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
While although UEFA’s deadline for host venue confirmation had recently passed, the game’s European governing body did its absolute best to extend it and in doing so, aim to keep the original schedule intact.
However, the bad news that many were expecting has finally been confirmed and it is an announcement that sees Bilbao required to hand their games over to the fellow Spanish city of Seville and Dublin lose their fixtures to a combination of St Petersburg and Wembley.
It’s tough news for those Irish fans who were hoping to saviour some European action in June and although the Russian football community will be smiling at the prospect of staging three fixtures, there is additional good news for The F.A.
That’s because Wembley has also been handed a Round of 16 tie and if things go to plan for England and they win Group D, they will be rewarded with another home tie. Which means, this tournament is almost becoming a de facto home one for Gareth Southgate’s men.
Whether that applies more pressure on the shoulders of The Three Lions remains to be seen and of course, a lot will depend on just how much capacity is permitted to return to the home of English football.
However, the fact that there will be less potential travel involved, should be of some benefit to England and if they can navigate their three group fixtures – including a ‘Battle of Britain’ with Scotland, their chances of winning the competition will only increase.
With Dublin’s removal from hosting duties and Sevilla stepping in at short notice, it means that 12 planned locations has been shrunk to 11 and when you consider the difficulties that come with cross-continental travel of late, credit must go to UEFA for continuing their original plans.
Of course, credit must also go to the nations that will be welcoming fixtures across June and July and of the ones that were also in doubt, it is good news for the German city of Munich, as their fixtures have finally been given the greenlight.
The sticking point with the Allianz Arena is that authorities could only promise a 21% capacity, rather than the 25% that were UEFA had set as its minimum hosting criteria. However, with this stadium being a capacity of 70,000, an element of leniency has been found.
While in the Spanish city of Sevilla, the Andalusian authorities have agreed that 30% attendance will be welcomed through the turnstiles and although it is a bitter blow for Bilbao, at least Spain will play some role in hosting this festival of football.
With the backdrop of European Super League behind us, it is time for international football to step back in the limelight and after a delay of 12 months, this tournament is going to be even more keenly anticipated before.
In what is shaping up to be a fantastic summer of football, this confirmation of the schedule really drives that point home and the question now, is whether England can finally end their 55-year international trophy drought?