Euro 2020 stopped in Baku when Kieffer Moore earned Wales a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in their opening game on Saturday, after Italy’s impressive victory to get the tournament started in Rome the night before. Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in a match overshadowed by the collapse of Danish star Christian Eriksen, and star-studded Belgium began their campaign by facing Russia.
In the first of three matches on Saturday, Moore, the giant Cardiff City striker with a red bandage around his head, went home in the 74th minute to interrupt Breel Embolo’s goal at the other end early in the second half.
“We showed a lot of character, as we always do, to hit back, be brave, get on the ball and get the equalizer,” Wales Captain Gareth Bale told the BBC.
The result followed Italy’s 3-0 defeat to Turkey in the same Group A in the tournament’s opening game in Rome on an emotional Friday night, when Andrea Bocelli performed “Nessun Dorma” at the Stadio Olimpico before Roberto Mancini’s side cruised to victory.
“There was an incredible feeling before the match, it was backbone -” said the Italian man in the match Leonardo Spinazzola.
A crowd of 16,000 watched that match and gave a sound and color to the occasion not seen in football during the past year of games in empty stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Limited crowds are allowed for matches at the euro, which take place in eleven cities across the continent, from as far apart as Seville to Baku on the Caspian Sea, after being postponed a year ago due to the health crisis.
But while crowds of up to 50 percent of capacity are put into play in Azerbaijan’s capital, the stands were sparsely populated as Wales and Switzerland played their games.
Finland beat Denmark
Finland beat Denmark 1-0 in their opening match in Euro 2020, which was overshadowed by the collapse of Christian Eriksen and must be revived on the pitch by doctors.
Joel Pohjanpalo scored the only goal in the hour mark of a Group B match that was stopped for almost two hours after the Danish playmaker Eriksen sank to the grass towards the end of the first half.
There was a fear for his life when he received CPR from doctors on the field when his teammates, some upset, formed a circle around him.
The stadium had fallen into a shocked silence while the medicines were working, but Eriksen eventually carried off the pitch at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen and a photo showed that he apparently held his head when he put on the stretcher.
The Danish Football Association (DBU) said that the Inter Milan player was awake and could talk to teammates.
“We have been in contact with him, and the players have talked to Christian,” DBU director Peter Moeller told Danmarks Radio (DR).
“That’s the big news. He’s fine, and they play the game for him.”
his match, which started at 1800 local time (1600 GMT), resumed two and a half hours later in front of a passionate audience at Parken Stadium.
Chants of “Christian” and “Eriksen” from both sets of supporters rang around the stadium when news of his status began to filter to supporters.
The two teams played out an eventful last few minutes of the first half after both players had returned to the pitch with several Danish players in tears.
After a short break of five minutes, the second half of the match continued with a similar pattern as before Eriksen’s collapse, with Denmark pushing Finland back but failing to find a way past the opposition’s defense and Finland’s goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky.
Pohjanpalo stunned the crowd in silence as he nodded home Jere Uronen’s cross and took advantage of Finland’s only true chance in the game.
In the same group B, Russia will face Belgium in today’s final match in St. Petersburg.
Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team, are among the leading contenders to win the month-long competition, but are without star Kevin De Bruyne against Russia as the Manchester City player continues to recover from injury.
Russia’s build-up of the euro was affected when winger Andrei Mostovoy contracted the virus and was expelled from the tournament just before the start.
He is one of a number of players who have tested positive for Covid-19, with the Spanish skipper Sergio Busquets in his opening game against Sweden on Monday in Sevilla.
Busquets are still self-isolating at home after testing positive last weekend, which meant that the team had to train individually this week and sit one last warm-up game against Lithuania.
“All of these things have made us stronger as a group. We see the light at the end of the tunnel now,” Spain defender Diego Llorente said on Saturday.
Nations have had to appoint expanded troops with 26 players for the euro instead of the usual 23 due to the virus.
Dutch coach Frank de Boer left goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen out of his squad completely after a positive virus test, which means that 38-year-old veteran Maarten Stekelenburg will play in Sunday’s match against Ukraine in Amsterdam.
“We must all adapt to a special situation,” UEFA President Alexander Ceferin told AFP as he reflected on the difficulties of organizing a pan-European competition during a pandemic.
Benefit for England?
Other leading contenders to win the euro are preparing to launch their campaigns, including England, who face World Cup runners-up in Croatia on Sunday.
England play all three group games at Wembley. If they top their group, they will also play there in the round of 16, while London is also the venue for both the semi-finals and the final on 11 July.
Croatian skipper Luka Modric admits the situation could work in England’s favor.
“Everyone would say teams at home with a crowd, that there is a small advantage,” Modric told the BBC.
England have drawn and beaten Croatia in the Nations League since the meeting and Modric admits that Gareth Southgate’s side is a significant threat.
“I rate them very highly. Of course they are one of the favorites for this tournament,” said Modric.
World Cup holder France – with Karim Benzema recalled from a five-and-a-half year international exile – are the favorites to be added to the continental crown.
They start their campaign against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, shortly after the owners Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo backed by a star-studded squad, Hungary play in the same Group F.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)