ROME: Italy kicked off their Euro 2020 campaign in emphatic style on Friday as they delivered a commanding performance to sweep past toothless Turkey 3-0 in the curtain-raiser for the postponed continental tournament in front of their home fans at the Stadio Olimpico and stamp their early authority on Group ‘A’.
After a year of football played largely in empty stadiums due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Olimpico was filled to a quarter of its capacity for the opening game and the home fans in the crowd of 16,000 were treated to a dominant victory.
Following a goalless first half, an own goal from Turkey defender Merih Demiral and strikes by Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were just reward for the home side, who played with relentless positivity from the start.
Their dispiriting failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup looked a distant memory as they stretched their unbeaten run to 28 matches in a buoyant atmosphere.
They were helped by a flat display from Turkey, who lost their fifth consecutive opening match of a European Championship finals and barely mustered a worthwhile attack all night.
After a build-up featuring a spine-tingling rendition of Nessun Dorma by opera singer Andrea Bocelli — channelling thoughts of Italia ‘90 - a spectacular fireworks display and a typically raucous rendition of Italy’s national anthem, the 16,000-strong crowd was in fine voice by kick-off.
Demiral redirected a cross from Domenico Berardi into his own net after attempting to intercept the pass eight minutes after the break.
Immobile then poked in a rebound of a shot from Leonardo Spinazzola on another play that began with Berardi in the 66th minute, and Insigne curled one in after a failed clearance by Turkey goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir with 11 minutes to go.
Rome is one of 11 cities across the continent hosting matches, the unprecedented pan-European format creating major headaches for UEFA during a pandemic.
The majority of the venues will be partially-filled for the matches, although Budapest is planning to fill its Puskas Arena to 100 percent of capacity.
Matches are being played from as far apart as Seville to Baku in Azerbaijan, where a header from the towering Kieffer Moore allowed Wales to come from behind and draw 1-1 with Switzerland in their Group ‘A’ game on Saturday.
Moore had his head wrapped in red bandages after an early collision and then used it to nod in a cross from Joe Morrell in the 74th minute after a short corner.
Switzerland dominated possession and wasted a string of chances before Breel Embolo headed in the opening goal in the 49th off a corner from Xherdan Shaqiri.
Switzerland substitute Mario Gavranovic volleyed the ball into the Welsh net late but it was ruled out for offside on a video review.
England enter the fray on Sunday and hope to make the most of home advantage when they take on 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia in London.
The match risks being overshadowed by a row over players taking the knee to highlight racial injustice.
England manager Gareth Southgate says his players will continue the gesture, despite boos by some fans before recent friendlies.
Also on Sunday, the Netherlands will be looking to make up for lost time when they begin their Group ‘C’campaign at home against Ukraine in Amsterdam on Sunday.
It is a return to a major tournament for the first time since the Dutch finished third at the 2014 World Cup.
In the same group, Austrian are up against North Macedonia in Bucharest.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021