Euro 2020 has given the football world something to cheer about in these difficult times, even if allowing fans back into stadiums remains a controversial and potentially dangerous issue.
How good have the European Championships been? Just when the world needed a pick-up from this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Europe’s top national teams have turned on a genuinely thrilling summer of football.
How about those giant-killing runs from Switzerland and the Czech Republic? The Swiss actually led their penalty shoot-out against Spain, only for Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon to save two spot-kicks – Swiss attacker Ruben Vargas blasted a third over the crossbar – to dramatically win the game for La Roja.
Meanwhile, the Czechs might have relied almost entirely on Leverkusen striker Patrik Schick for inspiration, but he delivered it in spades by notching five of their six goals.
They ended up being beaten 2-1 by a better Denmark outfit in the quarter-finals, but not before dumping a highly-fancied Dutch side out in the Round of 16.
But surely the biggest stories are Italy eliminating one of the tournament favourites in Belgium 2-1 in Munich, before England hinted that football may actually be coming home with their 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine in Rome.
We saw the best and the worst of the Italians in Munich, with Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne scoring a couple of belting goals. Napoli mainstay Insigne is a magical footballer, although quite why the Belgian defence backed off him before half-time remains a mystery.
Perhaps they were still annoyed by Ciro Immobile’s egregious play-acting in the build-up to Barella’s goal, with the Lazio striker diving for a penalty and rolling around as if he’d just been shot outside the six-yard box, before immediately springing to his feet to celebrate with team-mates as soon as Barella’s shot flew in.
It was a ridiculous look for a player of Immobile’s undeniable talent, but sadly it sums up the contributions of a striker who always performs better in a Lazio jersey than an Italian one.
At any rate, the Azzurri are now just one game away from reaching the final of Euro 2020 after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup altogether.
Standing in their way is Spain and a trip to Wembley Stadium, where authorities are set to allow a crowd of up to 60,000 fans enjoy all the action.
Let’s be honest: the decision to play games in multiple host cities hasn’t really worked.
It seemed like a questionable idea even before COVID hit and with games taking place from Seville to Saint Petersburg and as far away as Baku in Azerbaijan, it can’t have been easy on travelling fans.
You can understand UEFA’s desire to explore new frontiers, but from a practical standpoint, it’s been a bit of a nightmare.
It’s also now England’s tournament to lose, with both their semi-final and the tournament’s finale set to take place in the decidedly non-neutral confines of Wembley Stadium.
There had been furtive talk of the decider potentially moving to Budapest, with the Hungarian government opting not to set limits on the number of fans attending fixtures at the Puskas Arena.
And it’s hard to argue the four games in Budapest weren’t some of the best in the tournament. They were certainly the most fun to watch on TV, with fans filling every seat of the four-star stadium.
But with COVID’s Delta variant threatening to run rampant across Europe, there are renewed questions around the wisdom of letting so many spectators congregate.
It’s a tough one. On one hand it makes sense to try and limit the spread of the disease, but on the other there’s an obvious desire to try and return to some sense of normality.
Thank goodness we’ve at least had some football to take our minds off things for a while.
It’s been a fantastic tournament so far. Here’s hoping the final three games live up to all expectations.