Depleted Spain and Sweden face off after coronavirus chaos - GulfToday

Depleted Spain and Sweden face off after coronavirus chaos

Sweden

Sweden players take part in a training session at the La Cartuja Stadium in Seville on Sunday. Agece France-Presse

After a week without training and three years of upheaval, Spain head into their Euro 2020 opener against Sweden on Monday determined to leave the past behind but unsure about what comes next.

It was only a week ago that Spain received some bad news that could have jeopardized their 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 their 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 they take 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.

injury rules out Ibrahimovic: 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 their other group matches against Poland and Slovakia. A quarter-final 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 their 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 Hernandez will be the likely substitute for Busquets in the midfield on Monday.

Associated Press

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