It seems appropriate that Italy, the first country in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, are hosting the opening game of the European Championship.
The biggest crowd to gather in the country for a year and a half will witness an Azzurri squad, aiming for a second European title, play a Turkey team aiming to spring a surprise at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome (Friday: kick-off 8pm).
“We’ve been waiting a year for this and we can’t wait to experience hearing 15,000 people singing the national anthem,” veteran Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci said. “Football with fans inside the stadium is a different sport.”
After embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy won all 10 of their qualifying matches for Euro 2020 and enter the tournament on a 27-match unbeaten run.
“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 a (Romelu) Lukaku or a Cristiano Ronaldo. Our strength is the team.”
Turkey took four points off France in qualifying, including a 2-0 win over the World Cup winners, and lost only one of their matches to finish second in Group H.
“Being in this tournament and playing in the opening match makes us proud,” Turkey coach Senol Gunes said. “In every opening game there are surprises and I hope we can also spring one.”
Who’s playing today?
Group A: Turkey vs Italy; Kick-off 8pm (Rome)
What to look out for…
On the pitch…
Italy have won their past eight matches without conceding a goal and have 20 clean sheets in 32 matches since Roberto Mancini took over as coach.
One of Turkey’s main strengths is also their solidity at the back. Gunes’ side allowed only three goals in qualifying and managed to keep forwards Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland out during recent World Cup qualifiers.
And off it…
The Italian government decided that the Stadio Olimpico can be filled to 25 per cent capacity for the four games it will host, amounting to a maximum of 15,948 spectators.
Ticket-holders need to show one of three documents to enter: either a certificate from Italian health authorities showing they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, another document from Italian health authorities showing they have recovered from the coronavirus within six months, or a negative test result issued within 48 hours of kick-off.
While more than 2,000 tickets for the opening game were sold in Turkey, many of those fans are not expected to travel to the match. Fans arriving at the stadium will have their body temperature measured by thermal scanners, and anyone with a fever or other coronavirus symptoms will be ushered to a quarantine area.
Italy have asked UEFA for permission to replace Lorenzo Pellegrini with Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli in their Euro 2020 squad after the Roma midfielder picked up an injury, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said on Thursday.
Pellegrini was struggling for fitness ahead of the tournament but earned a place in Roberto Mancini’s 26-man squad, only to suffer an injury in training on Wednesday.
Turkey vs Italy – Head-to-head in all competitions
Turkey and Italy’s only previous encounter in a major tournament was at UEFA Euro 2000, also on 11th June.
It was their opening game of the tournament, ending 2-1 to Italy courtesy of goals from Antonio Conte and a penalty from Filippo Inzaghi. It was also in that game that Okan Buruk scored Turkey’s first ever goal in the European Championships.
Italy have never lost against Turkey despite facing them on 10 previous occasions, winning seven times and drawing three.
Manuel Locatelli is poised to start in midfield with Marco Verratti still stepping up his fitness. Mancini puts his faith in the solid defensive triangle of goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and his two centre-backs Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Turkey are likely to partner Juventus centre-back Merih Demiral alongside Leicester City’s Caglar Soyuncu with Okay Yokuslu at the base of midfield.
Cengiz Under is expected to get the nod, playing back at the Olimpico following his loan spell at Leicester from Roma.
Players to watch…
Zeki Celik: Celik 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 interest from a host of Premier League clubs including Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham.
Even though he did not provide any assists during qualification, the 24-year-old is a modern-day full-back, making eight starts on the right-hand side of defence during the campaign and looks to still have that position sewn up as his own.
Up front, Burak Yilmaz is Turkey’s second-highest scorer of all time, with his 29 goals putting him behind only the retired Hakan Suker (51 goals).
Ciro Immobile: The Lazio striker won the European Golden Shoe award when he matched the Serie A record with 36 goals during the 2019/20 season. But Immobile has struggled to replicate his club form on the international stage.
Having averaged 25 goals per season over his last five Serie A campaigns, the 31-year-old striker has underwhelmed for his country with just 12 goals – most of them against European also-rans – in 45 caps.
But group games against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales offers him a good opportunity to improve upon this record.
Italy have never lost at the Stadio Olimpico in a major tournament, World Cup and Euro combined, winning six and drawing two. They also haven’t conceded a single goal in each of those last seven games.
Turkey conceded only three goals in 10 games in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, the joint-best defensive record alongside Belgium.
Italy were one of only two teams – alongside Belgium – to win 100 per cent of their games in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (10/10). They scored 37 goals in their 10 Euro 2020 qualification matches (3.7 per game); this was the same tally as they scored in qualification for Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 combined (37 goals in 22 games).
Turkey have lost all four of their opening games at Euro finals – this includes their opening match against Italy in the 2000 tournament (1-2).
Also at Euro 2020…
Andrea Bocelli will sing Nessun Dorma during the tournament’s opening ceremony preceding kick-off. The ceremony will also feature a virtual performance by U2 stars Bono and The Edge with the DJ Martin Garrix.
What are the home nations up to?
Wales are undergoing their final preparations ahead of facing Switzerland in Baku in their opening Group A fixture.
The match-up also features some political undertones after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi labelled Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a ‘dictator’ in April.
Turkey summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest, and a presidential spokesman demanded that Draghi retract his words. Draghi, however, did not issue a public apology or retraction.
Draghi is not expected to attend the match as he will be in Britain on Friday attending a G7 summit. Erdogan is also not expected to attend.
Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast: Gary Neville on England’s chances, why France are favourites, and how Euro 2020 can lift the nation
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville (5:07) joins Peter Smith on the Sky Sports Football Euros Podcast to build up to the big Euro 2020 kick-off. Neville has his say on England’s strengths and weaknesses, what they’ll need to do to beat favourites France to the title, and how this talented young group of England players can raise the spirits of the entire nation.
During the podcast, we also get the lowdown on how Scotland and Wales (22.54) are shaping up from the Sky Sports News reporters following their campaigns, Charles Paterson and Geraint Hughes. Plus Valentina Fass from Sky Italy and Uli Kohler from Sky Germany (56.39) give us the view from the continent on how their own nations are looking.
Sky Sports deputy football editor Kate Burlaga and football writer Ben Grounds will also be sharing their top tips for the tournament, including who will be lifting 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