Hello, Euro 2020. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait.
Five years on from a fantastic tournament in France, the same 24-team format returns, with the addition of an altered qualifying system, expanded squads and a continent-wide list of host cities.
The great curtain-raiser for this most unique of European Championships was a match-up of two instinctively attacking forces. The legendary Şenol Güneş and his Turkey side were the official home team in Rome against 2006 World Cup winners Italy, revived under Roberto Mancini.
Güneş was not to play up to tactical expectations here, however.
Despite shaping up in their familiar 4-1-4-1, with the majority of experienced players amongst their young squad involved, the Turkish instructions here eschewed all sense of goal threat. Instead, the fashion was to defend stoutly, and if it came to it, for their lives.
Faced with a front three on the other side comprising Domenico Berardi, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, this was a risky strategy at best.
A first 45 minutes which saw only two big chances – Insigne skewing wide when shooting across goal and Giorgio Chiellini, from a corner, forcing a great save from Uğurcan Çakır– gave credit to the tactics of a man behind Turkish success in the 2002 World Cup, though.
Mancini, fortunately, was prepared for this.
Roma’s Leonardo Spinazzola, a constant threat in the first half and dutifully man-marked by Kenan Karaman, took a back seat after the restart.
With Alessandro Florenzi having a quiet first 45 minutes, Giovanni Di Lorenzo – a wing-back of scarce renown until his 2019 move to Napoli – was introduced on the right, and became the more apparent wide threat.
In a match of energy-sapping defensive fortitude on the Turks’ part, even more ball-chasing spelled danger.
Italy’s trap was set, and it did not take long to cash in.
First, Berardi sat down Turkish left-back Umut Meraş, not long recovered from treatment to his back, and swept a cross into the six-yard box. Poor Merih Demiral could do nothing other than chest it into his own net, and there the onslaught began.
Immobile, a belatedly rising international force, was the next profiteer of tired Turkish defending as Spinazzola fired through several bodies, Çakır parried and the Lazio striker blasted home to make it 2-0.
With the game effectively sewn up, given how weary the Turks were, Mancini’s men enjoyed themselves. Their pleasure – and Mancini’s own, no doubt – stemmed from seeing how a game plan founded on high pressure, neat interplay and plenty of attacking self-expression paid off in a daunting display.
The main architect of this victory, amongst those on the pitch, was fittingly the one to cap off the evening’s entertainment.
Insigne, with the maturity of a captain at club level now added to the fleet-footedness and eye for goal he’s had throughout his career, acted perfectly as lock-picker on this evening in Roma.
He had chances throughout the game in hard-earned pockets of space, but finally in the 80th minute he converted, sweeping a sumptuous finish across Çakır from Immobile’s assist to give all Azzurri a reason to relax in the closing stages.
The Turks had the final word, but it was hardly a polite or flattering one.
Çağlar Söyüncü and Halil Dervişoğlu were both booked, the latter for a very poor tackle. In the final minute of added time, the thankless task of captain Burak Yılmaz was compounded by his only chance of the match being snuffed out by Chiellini.
That was that; the ball has been set rolling, in what should be perfect fashion for the many who always have a soft spot for the Italians.
Just time for a quick recap and look ahead!
Performance of the Day: Lorenzo Insigne must take our first crown of the summer, for a display of tireless creativity, quick-thinking and tactical flexibility that should make Italian fans salivate. One only hopes that the equally vertically-challenged Raheem Sterling can bring similar success in that kind of role for England.
Up Next: A triple-header of Wales v Switzerland, Denmark v Finland and Belgium v Russia tomorrow. Tournament debutants, former winners, a clash of Lego v Heavy Metal, and Gareth Bale’s fantastically-kept hair – what more could you want? See you for more then!
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!