Euro 2020: Day 1
A year later than originally planned, Euro 2020 finally got underway last night in Italy, one of 11 host countries for this most special and unusual of tournaments. The pandemic, of course, could still once again rear its ugly head and have a negative impact on proceedings, but it was great to see waves of fans back in the stadium, and it was clear to see the players responded to that.
Any excitement and emotion about the tournament getting underway were heightened further with a spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma from Andrea Bocelli, which set the scene perfectly, while personally also evoked fine emotions of Italia 90, still my favourite international tournament ever, which also began in the Stadio Olimpico in the Italian capital, home to Serie A giants Lazio and AS Roma. There was less surprise in how both teams lined up for the curtain raiser, Turkey having a somewhat young squad who drifted through qualification but have stuttered since, while Italy had a more experienced fell about the starting XI, highlighted perfectly by Leonardo Bonucci and skipper Giorgio Chiellini partnering up at the back. It was strange, however, not to see Gigi Buffon between the sticks after 21 years of representing the national team, and 176 caps to boot. That said, Gianluigi Donnarumma, his replacement, also already feels like a stalwart of Italian football despite being just 22, having broke through at Milan at the tender age of 16, and with 27 caps already to his name, he could go on to become a permenant fixture just like his predecessor.
A 13,000 crowd, a quarter of the usual capacity, provided the backdrop to what was a tight first half, Italy dominating the proceedings but struggling to make their mark in front of goal. Donnarumma was largely untroubled, while his opposite number Uğurcan Çakır reacted well to tip over a Chiellini header as the Italians came closest to breaking the deadlock. After the break, the onslaught continued, the deadlock finally being broken after 53 minutes, courtesy of an own goal. Domenico Berardi made a driving run down the right hand side, and his cross into the box was fumbled past his own keeper by the unfortunate Merih Demiral, who plays his club football down the road in Turin. The 23 year old centre half was unable to sort out his feet, and there was nothing Çakır could do, although it was no less than the dominant Italians deserved.
The lead was doubled just after the hour mark, and it was the familiar figure of Ciro Immobile who grabbed the goal. The 31 year old striker was completely at home leading the line at the Stadio Olimpico, where he plays his club football for Lazio, and while he has often been criticised for failing to turn his domestic form to the international level, having scored 150 times for Lazio, he was perfectly on hand to turn home after Çakır could only block an initial effort from the impressive Leonardo Spinazzola. Any hopes for a respite were short lived, as Italy continued to press high and drive the game despite their comfortable lead, a far cry from the Azurri of old. They were rewarded with a 3rd goal 79 minutes in, Immobile this time turning provider as he set up strike partner Lorenzo Insigne to put the game to bed. Turkey, who offered little throughout, did have one glimmer late on as veteran striker Burak Yilmaz looked to break, but Chiellini was on hand to produce a fine block tackle to protect the clean sheet, a tackle celebrated with almost as much relish as a goal.
It was a fine winning start for Italy, who have gone somewhat under the radar in discussions around potential winners, somewhat surprising given their perfect qualification record, conceeding only 4 times in the process. Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini has them playing with far more energy and attacking direction than previous Italian sides, a fact underlined when it was revealed this was the first time Italy had ever scored more than 2 goals in a European Championship game. Coming into the tournament they were 10/1 to win (I know as I backed them each way), but I expect those odds to drop massively after this convincing win. Turkey, meanwhile will now need to pick themselves up ready for their next game, where they face Wales in Baku on Wednesday, to get their qualification hopes back underway.
Today we have Wales v Switzerland in Baku, a match which will give us the opportunity to see how Wales will fair in the group, where a win would give them a fine chance to progress further in the competition, with just 8 teams being eliminated after the group stages. Then at 5PM the Danes, on home soil, host Scandinavian neighbours Finland in their opener in Group B, before the evening is rounded off with the other Group B encounter, Russia another benefitting from home advantage as they welcome the widely tipped Belgian side to the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg. In terms of predictions, its hard to say with some teams really stuttering their way through pre-tournament friendlies and others still unsure of their best or available starting XI, but I would say I’d fancy Switzerland to at least draw, probably win (so draw no bet or double chance) in the opener (sorry Welsh fans, let’s hope I’m wrong). I’m far more confident Denmark will prove too strong for the Finnish, while in the final game I’d also strongly fancy the Belgians, but may just look to back Lukaku as goalscorer dependant on odds. Either way, just hoping for 3 more fantastic games to review tomorrow.Share this: