Postponed by a year, the biggest sporting event since the coronavirus brought the world to a halt kicked off Friday at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome — a milestone both for European and world sports.
Italy and Turkey are playing their Group A match at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
There are about 16,000 fans in the stadium. Attendances for most matches at the 24-team tournament in 11 cities around the continent have been cut because of restrictions related to the pandemic.
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli delivered a powerful performance of Giacomo Puccini’s aria “Nessun Dorma” at the opening ceremony for the European Championship.
Bocelli sang as the fireworks went off in the background and a female dancer attached to large helium balloons floated above the field.
The performance was followed by a virtual performance by U2 stars Bono and The Edge with DJ Martin Garrix.
The tournament represents a major step forward on the path toward recovery after one of the darkest chapters in the continent’s history since World War II. More than 1 million Europeans have died in the pandemic, including almost 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,” said Italy oach Roberto Mancini, who tested positive for COVID-19 in November but was asymptomatic.
Many worry that it’s still not safe to bring tens of thousands of fans together in stadiums across Europe, but organizers hope measures including crowd limitations, staggered arrival times for fans, social distancing rules and lots of hand sanitizer will help prevent a resurgence of virus infections, which have dropped sharply in Europe in recent months.
The virus already has had an impact on the tournament, which for the first time is not being hosted by one or two nations but is spread out across the continent with matches in 11 cities.
Spain captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the team’s first match against Sweden in Seville on Monday. Another Spain player tested positive, as did two of Sweden’s players. The Spanish squad was getting vaccinated Friday.
Russia winger Andrey Mostovoy then became the first player to be cut from a national team on Friday after testing positive.