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.
“It was a difficult week, no doubt about that,” Luis Enrique said Sunday. “I think one important thing as a human being is the capacity to adapt, and we are in that moment to think about the future with hope.”
Jordi Alba, who will be Spain’s captain on Monday in the absence of Busquets, said the squad was prepared despite the setbacks.
“Everyone is doing well,” Alba said. “We are motivated and in good physical condition despite everything that happened.”
Players and coaches for Spain and Sweden offered messages of support for Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen, who was recovering after collapsing on Saturday.
“When something like this happens, there’s no such thing as rivals or different nationalities,” Sweden captain Sebastian Larsson said. “He’s a colleague and a fellow human being.”
Before practicing on Sunday, Sweden players and coaches lined up behind a banner with the message: “Keep fighting, Christian.”
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.
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.
Luis Enrique didn't say who would be replacing Busquets, the only player remaining in the squad that was in Spain's World Cup-winning team in 2010. Manchester City player Rodri Hernández was the likely substitute in the midfield.
“We would have loved to be able to count on Busquets, but these things happen with other teams as well,” Luis Enrique said. "We can’t complain, we don’t have any excuses. We have a very good team and we are thrilled about making our debut.”
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