PARIS: Reigning champions Portugal begin their defense of the trophy against Hungary at Euro 2020 in Budapest on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, World Cup holders France take on Germany in a hotly-anticipated clash between two of the continent’s heavyweights.
Action on the pitch on day five of the tournament was preceded by a heartwarming “I’m fine” social media post from Christian Eriksen, the Danish midfielder recovering from Saturday’s shocking cardiac arrest.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal are set to have the honor of a full house in the Hungarian capital, with the Puskas Arena the only one of the 11 venues at this European Championship where there are no Covid-19 limits on the number of fans allowed.
“It’s perfect. I wish every single venue could host a full house. It’s great for viewers and players, but sadly it’s not up to us to decide,” said Ronaldo of the prospect of a crowd of up to 68,000 watching the first of Tuesday’s two matches at the tournament in Group F.
Ronaldo is 36 now and aiming to score in a fifth different European Championship finals.
He needs just one more goal to become the outright top scorer in the tournament, and is just five goals away from equalling the all-time international scoring record of 109 held by Iran’s Ali Daei.
But, from Ruben Dias to Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix, there is also an outstanding team behind him and Portugal are hopeful of retaining the title they won at Euro 2016 in France.
“Right now we think we have what it takes to win the cup,” said coach Fernando Santos.
Hungary are the rank outsiders in the group but are hoping to make the most of their home advantage.
That game will be followed by the mouthwatering showdown in Munich as the world champions face a Germany side eager to make up for their desperate showing at the World Cup in Russia, when they were knocked out in the group stage.
Les Bleus come into the tournament as firm favorites thanks to their status as World Cup holders and after coach Didier Deschamps decided to recall Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema from a five-and-a-half-year international exile.
France lost 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals in Rio de Janeiro but are unbeaten in the five meetings between the sides since, including a 2-0 win in the Euro 2016 semifinals.
“This fixture brings back happy memories and not so happy memories,” said France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris. “It is one of the all-time great major tournament fixtures.”
Germany are under pressure to perform in front of a home support at Munich’s Allianz Arena as they come into their final tournament under coach Joachim Loew, who will stand down after the finals following 15 years in charge.
“The spirit is very good and the team is hungry for success. That makes me confident and allows me to sleep peacefully,” Loew said.
In stark contrast to Budapest, authorities in Munich are only allowing around 14,500 fans into the Allianz Arena for games, equivalent to about 20 percent of capacity.
On Monday Spain got off to a stuttering start as Luis Enrique’s side — playing Group E games at home in Seville — were held to a 0-0 draw by Sweden.
European champions in 2008 and 2012, Spain were without captain Sergio Busquets, still isolating after testing positive for coronavirus, and paid for wasteful finishing by much-criticized Alvaro Morata.
In stark contrast Patrik Schick scored one of the championship’s greatest goals, a high, curling shot from just inside the halfway line in the Czech Republic’s 2-0 win over Scotland.
Schick had earlier headed in the opener as the Czechs ruined Scotland’s long-awaited first game at a major tournament in 23 years and went top of Group D.
“The ball bounced back, the goalkeeper was quite high, I took a look, I saw he was out there so I slammed it in,” said Bayer Leverkusen striker Schick of his stunner.
Also on day four, Slovakia edged out 10-man Poland 2-1 in Saint Petersburg in Group E.
In Copenhagen meanwhile Eriksen continues his recovery following his collapse in the game against Finland.
“I’m fine — under the circumstances, I still have to go through some examinations at the hospital, but I feel okay,” wrote the Denmark player on Instagram accompanied by a photo of him smiling and giving a thumbs-up while lying in bed.
Instagram was also the place where Austria’s Marko Arnautovic penned his apology after insulting North Macedonia players in Sunday’s victory, but despite his mea culpa UEFA have opened disciplinary proceedings into his behavior in Bucharest.