Finally, after a year-long delay, the Euro 2020 is ready to get underway with the opening ceremony, followed by the first match of the tournament. Football fans have been counting down the days to June 11, 2021, ever since the announcement that the tournament was being postponed last year. Everyone is viewing this tournament as a big step back to normality in the sporting world. The fact that the tournament is being held in stadiums dotted across all corners of Europe and that a number of fans will be allowed back into the stadiums are exciting developments.
The action kicks off in the Olimpico stadium in Rome in front of 16,000 fans with an hour-long opening ceremony that starts at 20.00 CET. This will be an unusual ceremony with the main performance being a virtual one. Rock legends U2 joining DJ Martin Garrix will be performing the official Euro 2020 song virtually, using the latest technology to project themselves onto the stage. Fingers crossed there will be no glitches!
Surprisingly, Italy have not won this competition for over 50 years, with their solitary triumph coming in 1968. In more recent times they have finished runners up on two occasions, in 2000 and 2012. In Euro 2016 Italy won their group, beating Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Sweden to the top spot. However, they failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup so they will be hoping to put that unusual statistic well behind them.
This time around they have an interesting team with vast experience and plenty of youth. They are currently 4th favourites, given roughly the same chance of victory as Germany and defending champions Portugal at a price of 15/2. Much credit for this turnaround must go to coach Roberto Mancini, who has the highest win rate of any Italy manager in history. With the team scoring 70 goals and only conceding 14 since he took over, resulting in Italy being undefeated in their last 27 outings. Unfortunately, it seems that a vital part of Italy’s midfield, Marco Verratti, will miss this match with Manuel Locatelli likely to take his place. There are very few other concerns for Mancini at this stage with Bonucci and Chiellini continuing their partnership in defence and Lazio’s Immobile expected to lead the line up-front.
The Turkish team, on the other hand, didn’t make it past the group stage in 2016, as they finished third in their group behind Croatia and Spain and have failed to qualify for a World Cup since 2002. However, they have reappointed coach Senol Gunes who guided them to that famous third-place finish in 2002. So they will be hoping he can offer some inspiration to a young squad once again.
Despite having an average age of under 25, they have been organised and tough to beat, only conceding three goals in qualifying and keeping eight clean sheets. Veteran striker Burak Yilmaz has just won the league with Lille and other star names have emerged such as Hakan Calhanoglu, Merih Demiral and Caglar Soyoncu. Similarly, to their opponents, Turkey should line up in a similar fashion to their last match with Juventus. Centre back Demiral partnering Leicester City’s Soyuncu, Yilmaz leading the line and Under and Calhanoglu providing the creativity.
The first fixture is a repeat of both teams first match in Euro 2000. Italy won that match and are strong favourites to do so this time, especially since Turkey have never beaten them when playing in Rome. Another negative mark against Turkey is the fact that they have lost four of their previous opening matches at European Championships. Italy have an impressive win rate when playing in Rome and warmed up for this tournament with a 7-0 thrashing of minnows San Marino. And, more importantly, a 4-0 win against Czech Republic. The fact that this is an opening game and Turkey being difficult to break down, we may be seeing a low scoring start to the tournament, with Italy likely edge past their opponents. Only a few hours left to see.