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Euro 2020 is here, against Covid-19 odds

The red-letter date circled on the calendar has finally docked.

On Friday night, the roar of the 18,000 fans at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico will reverberate around the world when Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini and Turkey’s Burak Yılmaz head for the toss to kick-start Euro 2020.

Those alive shall boast to future generations on the trivia of Euro 2020 being played in 2021.

History is being made, and just like those that witnessed the 30-year war knew well that it actually took 36 years, we must also savour the moment.

It has been a tumultuous epoch and the earth is learning, albeit slowly, just how to cope with the novel virus which has proven as the poet Robert Burns observes: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Gang aft a-gley.” No matter how well a project is planned, something may still go wrong.

To go round the problem, 11 countries shall host the matches to avoid contamination and further spread – the greatest gulf of social distancing in a sports tournament so far.

A stellar cast of players will be chasing continental honours in a four-week festival of football that gets under way in the Eternal City at 10pm.

This comes after a year of restrictions, frustrations, funerals, lay-offs, Covid divorces, and lockdown babies. It’s time to go gaga. With sports bars reeling under the night curfew, there are bound to be interesting discussions about the remote control in many homes.

The European championship has come through years of planning, petitions, propaganda, politics and lately, pandemic. After all the hurdles, the football gods have spoken. Barring a calamity, the planets have aligned and the stars are about to collide in spectacular fashion.

From Baku to Budapest, Moscow to Munich, the stage is set for a big bash. A testament to the power of football and the resilience of the human spirit.

For the next four weeks, Kenyans will join millions of other football lovers across the globe for a daily dose of jogo bonito. The 2016 tournament had a global audience of two billion, with an average of 130 million per match.

Without a doubt, the 2020 championship shall be gruelling and many stomachs of fans shall cramp and churn with anticipation. It’s the kind of show that compels men to summon their all for the sake of the flag.

Five years ago in Paris, Portugal overcame the early loss of talismanic captain Cristiano Ronaldo to beat the star-studded France in the final and win their first major tournament after Eder’s superb extra-time strike.

This time round, it’s a totally different ball game. It’s about Ronaldo’s age and the pressure from the back pages. Will one of Portugal’s finest exports pull the strings and conduct the orchestra as he did in France? Will Kylian Mbappe, Kevin de Bruyne, Luka Modric and Harry Kane rise to the occasion and stop the indefatigable King of the pitch?

For the fantasists, there’s no harm in imagining the crown being won by a magnificent touch from Paul Pogba, a sublime pass from Thiago, a flash of genius from Eden Hazard or one of Ronaldo’s exquisite free-kicks.

For the pragmatists, the title will be won by the team that has the best base, in defence and midfield, from which to stage the quick counter-attacks that are crucial in the European game.

On a stage created for hunters, Robert Lewandowski vows to remain Europe’s finest, Mbappe hopes he can stop him, Romelu Lukaku heads the Belgian attack, Memphis Depay pleads the Dutch case as Kane shoulders the unrealistic expectations of a nation. Ronaldo, a magician with the ball at his feet, is still banging them in for fun at 36.

On a platform designed for marshals, N’Golo Kante leads the French legion, Bruno Fernandes directs the Portuguese show, Joshua Kimmich vrooms the German machine, Frenkie de Jong conducts the Dutch choir as the evergreen Sergio Busquets plays the Spanish guitar.

In defence, Aymeric Laporte seeks to inspire the Spanish crew, Raphael Varane lines up for Les Bleus, Ruben Dias patrols the Portuguese backline, Antonio Rudiger the gentle giant in Die Mannschaft as Matthijs de Ligt and Harry Maguire remain locked in a race against time to be fit. Chiellini, meanwhile, is keen to execute the Italian job at 36.

Standing tall between the poles, Jordan Pickford is on a mission to save the Queen, Manuel Neuer guards the German gates, Thibaut Courtois steadies the Belgian defence, Kasper Schmeichel’s gifted hands always a source of pride for the Danes as Hugo Lloris remains the last man in the French box.
On the bench, it will be a battle of wits between some of the finest tacticians in the world. Former professional players are out in full force to guide their nations to continental glory from the touchline.
Ryan Giggs (Wales), Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine), Gareth Southgate (England), Frank de Boer (Netherlands), Luis Enrique (Spain) and Roberto Mancini (Italy) are desperate to prove their mettle off the pitch.

Let the party begin.