It seems fitting that Italy, the first country in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, is hosting the opening game of the European Championship.
The biggest crowd gathered in the country for a year and a half will see a team Azzurri, aiming for a second European title, face a team from Turkey aiming to create the surprise at Stadio Olimpico in Rome (Friday: kick-off at 8 p.m.).
“We have been waiting for this for a year and we look forward to hearing 15,000 people singing the national anthem,” said veteran Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci. “Football with supporters inside the stadium is a different sport.”
After embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy have won their 10 qualifying matches for Euro 2020 and enter the tournament in a 27-game unbeaten streak.
“We want to go all the way,” Bonucci added. “Other national teams have more experience but we can play with anyone. We don’t have (Romelu) Lukaku or Cristiano Ronaldo. Our strength is the team.”
Turkey took four points from France in qualifying, including a 2-0 victory over the World Cup winners, and only lost one of their matches to finish second in Group H.
“To be in this tournament and to play the opener makes us proud,” Turkey coach Senol Gunes said. “In every opening game there are surprises and I hope we can create one as well.”
Who is playing today?
Group A: Turkey versus Italy; Kick-off at 8 p.m. (Rome)
What to watch out for …
In the field…
Italy have won their last eight games without conceding a goal and have 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances since Roberto Mancini became coach.
One of Turkey’s main strengths is also its solidity at the rear. Gunes’ side allowed just three goals in qualifying and managed to keep forwards Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland sidelined in the recent World Cup qualifiers.
And apart from that …
The Italian government has decided that the Stadio Olimpico could be filled to 25% of its capacity for the four matches it will host, for a maximum of 15,948 spectators.
Ticket holders must present one of the following three documents to enter: either a certificate from the Italian health authorities stating that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, another document from the Italian health authorities showing that they have recovered coronavirus within six months, a test result released within 48 hours of kickoff.
As more than 2,000 tickets for the opening match have been sold in Turkey, many of those fans are not expected to make it to the match. Fans arriving at the stadium will have their body temperatures measured by thermal scanners, and anyone with a fever or other symptoms of coronavirus will be taken to a quarantine area.
Italy have asked UEFA for permission to replace Lorenzo Pellegrini with Gaetano Castrovilli of Fiorentina in his Euro 2020 squad after the Roma midfielder was injured, the Italian Football Federation announced on Thursday ( FIGC).
Pellegrini struggled to get back into shape ahead of the tournament, but secured a place in Roberto Mancini’s 26-man squad, before suffering an injury in training on Wednesday.
Turkey vs Italy – Head-to-head in all competitions
The only meeting between Turkey and Italy in a major tournament was at UEFA Euro 2000, also on 11 June.
It was their opening game of the tournament, ending 2-1 against Italy thanks to goals from Antonio Conte and a penalty from Filippo Inzaghi. It was also in this match that Okan Buruk scored Turkey’s very first goal at the European Championships.
Italy have never lost to Turkey despite having faced them 10 times, winning seven times and drawing three.
Manuel Locatelli is about to start in midfield with Marco Verratti improving his physical form even further. Mancini relies on the strong defensive triangle of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and his two central defenders Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
turkey are likely to team up with Juventus center-back Merih Demiral alongside Leicester City’s Caglar Soyuncu with Okay Yokuslu at the base midfielder.
Cengiz Under is expected to get the green light, playing at Olimpico after his loan spell at Leicester from Roma.
Players to watch …
Zeki Celik: Celik has impressed in his 27 appearances for Lille this season, scoring three goals and providing two assists as the club won Ligue 1. His performances have attracted the interest of many Premier League clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Even though he didn’t provide any assists in qualifying, the 24-year-old is a modern day full-back, making eight starts on the right side of the defense during the campaign and seems to still have that stitched position as his. clean.
Ahead, Burak Yilmaz is Turkey’s second-highest goalscorer of all time, with 29 goals putting him behind retired Hakan Suker (51 goals).
Ciro Immobile: The Lazio forward won the European Golden Boot by tying the Serie A record with 36 goals in the 2019/20 season. But Immobile has struggled to replicate its club form on the international stage.
After averaging 25 goals per season in his last five Serie A campaigns, the 31-year-old has disappointed for his country with just 12 goals – most against European sides as well – in 45 caps.
But the group matches against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales give him a good opportunity to improve on that record.
Key statistics …
Italy have never lost at Stadio Olimpico in a major tournament, World Cup and Euro combined, taking six wins and two draws. They haven’t conceded a single goal in each of those last seven games, either.
Turkey conceded just three goals in 10 games in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, the best common defensive record alongside Belgium.
Italy was one of only two teams – along with Belgium – to win 100% of their matches in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (10/10). They have scored 37 goals in their 10 qualifying matches for Euro 2020 (3.7 per game); that’s the same total they scored in qualifying for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup combined (37 goals in 22 games).
Turkey have lost their four opening matches in the Euro final – this includes their opening match against Italy in the 2000 tournament (1-2).
Also at Euro 2020 …
Andrea Bocelli will sing Nessun Dorma at the tournament opening ceremony before kick-off. The ceremony will also include a virtual performance from the stars of U2 Bono and The Edge with DJ Martin Garrix.
What are the original nations doing?
Wales are in their final preparations before facing Switzerland in Baku in their first Group A match.
The match also has political nuances after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “dictator” in April.
Turkey summoned the Italian ambassador to protest and a presidential spokesman asked Draghi to retract. Draghi, however, did not issue a public apology or retraction.
Draghi is not expected to attend the game as he will be in Britain on Friday to attend a G7 summit. Erdogan is also not expected to attend.
Sky Sports Football Euros podcast: Gary Neville on England’s chances, why France are favorites and how Euro 2020 can uplift the nation
Sky Sports Expert Gary Neville (5:07) joined Pierre Smith on the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast to prepare for the big kick-off of Euro 2020. Neville has his say on England’s strengths and weaknesses, what they will have to do to beat the French favorites for the title, and how this young group talented English players can boost the morale of the whole nation.
During the podcast we also learn how Scotland and Wales (22.54) Sky Sports News journalists emerge as a result of their campaigns, Charles paterson and Geraint Hugues. More Valentina fass of the sky Italy and Uli kohler of the sky Germany (56,39) give us the continent’s perspective on what their own nations look like.
Sky Sports Associate Football Editor Kate burlaga and football writer Ben Patterns will also share their top tournament tips, including who will lift the trophy on July 11 – and which players will light up the tournament (1.09: 35).
Listen to the Sky Sports Football Euros podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox