After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, this will be the ideal opportunity for Italians to make amends, while Turkey will be trying to carry their recent fine form into the Euros.
The wait for Euros is finally over. The tournament kicks off with a bang, with Italy facing Turkey in a vital Group A match. They are the two most likely teams in the group to advance to the knockout stages. Wales and Switzerland are the other two sides in the group. It is fitting that the opening game of the European Championship will be held in Italy, which was the first country in Europe to suffer the most from the coronavirus outbreak. This will also be the largest crowd in the country in over a year and a half. They will be eager to see an Azzurri team aiming for a second European title.
The Italian government has determined that the Stadio Olimpico can be filled to 25% capacity for the four games it will host, bringing the total number of spectators to 15,948. Meanwhile, Turkey, with quality players in many positions, will be hoping to spring a surprise. In the qualifiers, the Turkish side conceded only three goals from 10 matches and finished second – two points shy of leaders France. They had the fewest goals conceded in their group and will hope to build on that strong defence to surprise many teams in the European Championship.
Let us look at what to expect from the eagerly-awaited opening clash:
Italians are traditionally known for their solid defensive setup. It has always been their hallmark for success. The Italians last won a major tournament in 2006, when they won the World Cup in Germany. It was the solid backline that helped them frustrate the opponents as they put an unlikely title charge to reach the finals against all odds.
This approach was evident in their shocking victory over hosts. Germany were unable to break down the Italian defence, and just as the game appeared to be heading to penalties, the Azzurri pulled off a massive upset, scoring two late goals in extra-time to win it 2-0. Even in the final, France were not able to break the deadlock as the Italians eventually prevailed in a penalty shoot-out. It was also the same defensive stability which helped them reach the Euro 2012 final before losing it out to Spain. The trend seems to continue as the Azzurri yet again possess a strong backline.
Since Roberto Mancini took over as coach, they have kept 20 clean sheets in 32 games. They were also impressive in the qualifiers, conceding just the four goals from ten matches. But the interesting aspect is that the Turkish side is equally solid in their defensive set up. They have conceded one less goal (three) than the Italians in the qualifiers – the joint-best defensive record alongside Belgium.
Turkey’s backline is expected to feature Juventus centre-back Merih Demiral alongside Leicester City’s Caglar Soyuncu, with Okay Yokuslu at the base of the midfield. Meanwhile, Mancini will rely on his defensive trio of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini at the heart of the defence.
Even though defence appears to be their biggest strength, both teams have enough firepower in their arsenal to trouble any team on a given day. Turkey’s 35-year-old striker Burak Yilmaz is fresh off leading Lille to the Ligue 1 title. He played a crucial role in their league victory. The forward has found the net 16 times in the league and overall on 18 occasions in 33 matches in all competitions.
The Turkish team will be hoping that he can keep up his incredible form while playing for the national team. His club teammate Zeki Celik also impressed for the Ligue 1 club. The right-back will be looking to create chances for their forward players, with inch-perfect crossing. Meanwhile, their attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu returns from an impressive club season with AC Milan, helping them finish in the Champions League places. He will be tasked with providing the creative outlet for them in the competition.
As for Italy, Mancini has had a stunning impact ever since joining them. After the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup, he was instrumental in helping the team regroup. They are now back to their usual best, having a solid look about them. The Azzurri are no longer just a defensive team – they are also capable of scoring goals aplenty. Mancini’s side have scored a staggering 37 goals in the ten qualifying matches.
They are led by the goal-scoring machine Ciro Immobile. The Lazio striker matched the Serie A record with 36 goals during the 2019-20 season. Even in the recently concluded season, he found the back of the net 25 times in all competitions. With Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne supporting him up front, and Manuel Locatelli, Marco Verratti and Jorginho dictating the play from the midfield, the Italians will undoubtedly be a deadly force to reckon with in the Euros.