SOCCER

Spain’s national soccer team to be vaccinated with just days to go before first Euro 2020 game

The last-minute decision by the Health Ministry will see the army administer Pfizer doses to the squad and their support staff after players Diego Llorente and Sergio Busquets tested positive for coronavirus

Diego Llorente during a training session.
Diego Llorente during a training session.Rodrigo Jiménez / EFE

Spain’s Health Ministry has today approved a request to vaccinate the national soccer team against Covid-19 ahead of its first match at the UEFA European Football Championship on June 14. The move comes after two players tested positive for coronavirus: team captain Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente.

According to a ministry source and another source with ties to the executive, the players and their support staff will be immunized with the vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech, which requires two doses. The second one will be administered around June 31, a couple of days before the quarter finals are held.

The ministry on Wednesday confirmed the decision following some hesitation as to whether the team should be immunized. The vaccines will be administered by army personnel, mirroring the vaccination of Olympic and Paralympic athletes who will represent Spain at the Tokyo Games.

The coming days, until we can train in a group, are critical due to the risk of more infections coming to light
Sources from the Spanish national soccer team

Fears of another positive coronavirus case in the Spanish national soccer team came to pass late on Tuesday night, when Diego Llorente was confirmed to have contracted the virus. The development marked the second such confirmation, after Sergio Busquets also tested positive on Sunday. There are just days to go before the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship gets underway. Spain is scheduled to play against Sweden in Seville on Monday evening.

According to the technical details of the Pfizer vaccine, “optimal protection [against Covid-19] cannot be guaranteed” until seven days have passed after the administration of the second dose. This means the team would not enjoy the full protection from the vaccine until approximately the semifinals, due to be held on July 6 and 7. That said, the vaccines do lower the risk of infection once the first shot has been administered.

There were clearly nerves among the team on Tuesday, with the president of the Spanish Football Federation, Luis Rubiales, stating that “there is a positive and there could be more.” His face was a picture of concern.

The two confirmed cases started a debate as to whether the players should have been vaccinated before the tournament began. The Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Spain is progressing according to age, from oldest to youngest, and is currently embarking nationwide on the 40-to-49 group.

A commission had debated on Tuesday whether or not the players should get their shots, but announced no conclusion. The panel of experts reportedly voiced their opposition to vaccinating the national team for reasons of fairness.

Sergio Busquets at a soccer match in Madrid on June 4.
Sergio Busquets at a soccer match in Madrid on June 4.AFP7 vía Europa Press / Europa Press

Last Friday, the Culture and Sports Ministry sent a letter to the Health Ministry with a formal request for the vaccination of the 51-person bubble, which includes players, coaches and federation employees.

Before Diego Llorente’s positive case was confirmed, the team’s plan was to return to group training sessions on Friday or Saturday. But the protocol now means that the team will have to train individually or in small groups for a further three or four days.

On Friday or Saturday, the manager was due to bring the whole team together to train ahead of the Sweden match on Monday.

The second positive coronavirus case could mean that there will be no more group practice sessions before their maiden game. “The coming days, until we can train in a group, are critical due to the risk of more infections coming to light,” sources from the Spanish team warn.

Things are not going much better for Sweden. On Tuesday, the team also announced two positive coronavirus cases: the players Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg.

The Euro tournament, which is usually held every four years, was due to take place last summer but was suspended due to the pandemic. It will now take place in 11 cities in 11 different countries, and will run from June 11 to July 11. UEFA, the governing body for European soccer, has opted to keep the name Euro 2020 despite the delay. In recent years, Spain won the tournament in 2008 and 2012.

English version by Simon Hunter and Susana Urra.

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