ROME – Postponed by a yr, the most important sporting occasion for the reason that coronavirus introduced the world to a halt kicks off Friday on the Stadio Olimpico in Rome — a milestone each for European and world sports.

The opening match of soccer’s European Championship might be performed within the capital of Italy, the primary nation outdoors Asia to get struck by the pandemic and the primary on the earth to implement a nationwide lockdown.

The event represents a serious step ahead on the trail towards restoration after one of the darkest chapters within the continent’s historical past since World War II. More than 1 million Europeans have died within the pandemic, together with virtually 127,000 Italians.

“After everything that’s happened, now the situation is improving, I think the time has come to start providing fans with something to be satisfied about,” stated Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who examined constructive for COVID-19 in November however was asymptomatic.

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The event was postponed last March when nations have been scrambling to comprise virus outbreaks and main sporting events all over the world have been canceled or placed on maintain.

Many fear that it’s nonetheless not secure to deliver tens of 1000’s of followers collectively in stadiums throughout Europe, however organizers hope measures together with crowd limitations, staggered arrival instances for followers, social distancing guidelines and plenty of hand sanitizer will assist stop a resurgence of virus infections, which have dropped sharply in Europe in latest months.

In Rome, followers getting into the stadium are required to deliver documentation exhibiting they’ve been vaccinated in opposition to the virus, examined damaging within the 48 hours earlier than the match or already had the illness.

The world of sports is watching. If every part goes easily, Euro 2020 may give a confidence increase for different main sporting events, just like the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to open on July 23 — additionally a yr late. If it does not, it could be a critical setback that would have ramifications past soccer.

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The virus already has had an impression on the event, which for the primary time isn’t being hosted by one or two nations however is unfold out throughout the continent with matches in 11 cities.

Spain captain Sergio Busquets examined constructive for COVID-19 and can miss the workforce’s first match in opposition to Sweden in Seville on Monday. Another Spain participant examined constructive, as did two of Sweden’s gamers. The Spanish squad was getting vaccinated Friday.

Russia winger Andrey Mostovoy then grew to become the first player to be cut from a national team on Friday after testing constructive.

Italy’s opening match in opposition to Turkey will deliver collectively the most important crowd within the nation because it went right into a full lockdown 15 months in the past, despite the fact that the stadium might be crammed to solely 25% of its capability.

In Rome and elsewhere in Italy, most virus restrictions have been lifted. A midnight curfew and a requirement to put on a masks outdoors one’s dwelling are probably the most tangible methods by which the pandemic nonetheless impacts the each day lives of residents.

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this report.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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