Euro 2020: Full house in Budapest gives a taste of what fans have been missing

Empty or only partly full stadiums have become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, often creating a sterile atmosphere for players and viewers alike.

Fans cheer on during the Euro 2020 game between Hungary and Portugal at the Puskas Arena on Tuesday.   -  REUTERS

The deafening roar at the Puskas Arena in Budapest will have been music to the ears of football fans around the world, as a full house of 67,000 fans watched Hungary take on Portugal in its European Championship opener on Tuesday.

Empty or only partly full stadiums have become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, often creating a sterile atmosphere for players and viewers alike.

But the Hungarian government has bucked the trend, allowing a full-capacity crowd at the newly built arena, at the behest of football-mad Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The populist Orban, in power since 2010 but facing a unified opposition in tough elections next April, has relaxed social distancing regulations to allow fans to sit side-by-side.

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He is seeking to make the most of Hungary’s moment in the football spotlight with the hosting of four Euro 2020 matches at the Puskas Arena, all likely to be sold out as Hungarians lap up the chance to view live football.

Whatever the reasons, though, it made for a raucous atmosphere and gave a definite lift to the home side against its more fancied opponents, the reigning European champions.

Every touch of the ball anywhere near the Portugal box was met with loud cheers, while the whistles rang out whenever the visitors were on the ball.

Fans were able to gain entry to the stadium if they showed certification that they had been vaccinated against the virus, while entry times at the gates were staggered to try to keep large groups apart outside the venue.

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