After virus scare, Spain ready to face Sweden at Euro 2020
SEVILLE, Spain (AP) — It was only a week ago that Spain received some bad news that could have jeopardized its participation in the European Championship.
Captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for the coronavirus and the national team suddenly faced the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Busquets left the team’s training camp and the rest of the squad had to go into isolation. Everyone had to be tested and retested. Spain coach Luis Enrique had to hastily put together a parallel squad in case more players were infected. Personalized training routines were put into place. The team’s final warm-up match had to be played with an under-21 squad.
Fears increased when a second player, defender Diego Llorente, tested positive a few days later, and Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said more positive results were likely. More players were pulled away from their vacations to join the parallel training bubble.
It was a grim outlook for “La Roja” on the eve of the tournament that was delayed for a year because of the pandemic.
But normalcy was somehow restored for Spain ahead of its Group E opener against Sweden on Monday in Seville.
Little by little, the good news started trickling in.
Llorente’s test result turned out to be a false-positive. The government rushed in to vaccinate the entire squad. Players were allowed to practice together again after tests kept coming back negative.
Spain will be much closer to full strength when it takes on the Swedes at La Cartuja Stadium.
“We all see this as a ‘glass half-full’ situation,” Llorente said. “It has made us stronger as a group and as a team. It can help us mentally for these upcoming matches. Everything will be OK if we all row in the same direction, and that’s the lesson we need to learn from this week.”
Sweden also had to deal with setbacks because of the coronavirus. Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg tested positive last week and had to go into isolation.
They won’t be available to play on Monday, and neither will Busquets. The Barcelona player had taken over as captain of the national team after Luis Enrique decided not to call up veteran Sergio Ramos because he was plagued by injuries this season.
Sweden will be without its own veteran star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ended his five-year international retirement in March but had to rule himself out of Euro 2020 because of a knee injury.
The Swedish attack will likely be led by 21-year-old Alexander Isak, who plays for Real Sociedad in the Spanish league.
“It will be my first final tournament. That’s what I’m most anxious about,” Isak told UEFA.com. “The fact that we start out against Spain is a lot of fun, since that’s where I play my day-to-day football.”
It was because of the virus that the match will be played in Seville instead of Bilbao, the Spanish city originally picked as host. But the high contagion rate of the virus in the northern part of the country forced UEFA to change venues.
About 16,000 fans will be able to attend matches at La Cartuja in the southern city of Seville, where Spain will also play its other group matches against Poland and Slovakia. A quarterfinal match will also be played at La Cartuja.
Local officials removed the requirement for fans to show a negative test to attend matches after many complained they were not told of the requirement at the time of purchase.
Spain’s squad had its first full practice only on Saturday, when Luis Enrique began deciding who will replace Busquets, the only player remaining in the squad that was in Spain's World Cup-winning team in 2010. Manchester City player Rodri Hernández will be the likely substitute for Busquets in the midfield on Monday.
This is the third time in a row that Spain faced problems ahead of a major tournament. Days before the 2018 World Cup, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui was fired after taking a job with Real Madrid, and starting goalkeeper David de Gea had his name involved in an investigation into a Spanish pornography filmmaker before Euro 2016. He eventually was fully cleared of any wrongdoing.
Luis Enrique hopes the challenges posed by the coronavirus are in the past.
“I hope there are no more (coronavirus) cases for any team,” Luis Enrique said. “I hope we can see a good spectacle. Fans want to be back in the stadiums and regain some normalcy."
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