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By Anita Kobylinska and Tommy Lund

GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) – Fans flocking into Poland’s historic city of Gdansk for the Europa League final between Manchester United and Villarreal on Wednesday said their enthusiasm for the game had triumphed over their fears about COVID-19.

English and Spanish supporters said they were excited to be able to witness the first major European final in nearly two years to have fans in attendance.

“It’s been emotional because of what it means to play the first final in the history of Villarreal, and also because of the situation we are in, the pandemic, after a year of not having travelled,” Andrea Manrique told Reuters.

“I think that enthusiasm has won out a little over fear,” she added, wearing a yellow scarf in support of her team.

Up to 9,500 fans will be allowed into the Gdansk Stadium, with at least 2,000 supporters of each team flying in from Spain and Britain.

“More than fear, respect… and a lot of caution,” said another Villarreal supporter Paco Munoz, wearing a double face-mask bearing a logo of the team as he landed at Gdansk airport.

In the stadium, he and his group would use higher-protection FFP2 masks, to be able to enjoy the game safely, he added.

“It is a sacrifice but I believe that the reward is greater than this sacrifice. We understand that with these measures — masks, gels and distance — we are slowly returning to normality”.

Despite the challenging circumstances, many fans travelled to Poland with their families.

“I had never travelled [to a Villarreal away game] before and this has been a very cool experience so far,” said Nuria Pulido, pushing a trolley with her four-year-old daughter in it, while her mother-in-law carried her one-year-old.

She said she had been nervous about mixing with other people on a plane but had tried not to think about it too much.

With Villarreal fans’ yellow smoke clouding the air, and United fans chanting on restaurant terraces, the atmosphere in the city’s historic centre was upbeat and had a post-pandemic feel.

“It is being a bit more like normal normality. It’s good to just be close to people, to interact with people,” said Claire Williams, a United supporter wearing a club shirt.

Wojtek Dabkowski from Poznan, Poland, who has supported United for 14 years, added: “Football is with fans and without fans, we can’t compare it. Right now, this is the real football.”

(Reporting by Anita Kobylinska and Tommy Lund; Editing by Milla Nissi; editing by Clare Fallon)