Well hello, Italy. It’s good to have you back. On a tense and muggy night in Rome, a statement performance of what we now have to describe as a favorite: a vivid and exciting display of smart attacking football. Five years after their last appearance in a major tournament, three decades after this country last hosted one, Italy began their Euro 2020 campaign with the impatience and determination of a team eager to make up for lost time.
Perhaps the most important element of this performance was its emotional maturity – the way Italy regrouped after a goalless first half and got back on track. He wondered if, given the weight of the occasion, given the risks involved, given their tournament history and the expectation of the limited audience of 16,000, Italy’s stage fright could beat them. Instead, it was the highly imagined Turks who softened their lines, struggling to carve a niche in the game and ultimately powerless to stop Italy’s irresistible momentum in the second half. They will have to improve significantly in order to progress.
First, of course, there was the predictably immoderate opening ceremony that you could do without: a spectacular vaudeville affair with a strange traffic light with bouncing inflatable balls, enough soldiers to take over North Tyrol, lots of colored smoke, and Andrea Bocelli. offering a tingling in the spine. interpretation of Nessun Dorma.
Yet for once, the theatricality and bombast felt appropriate. As the final notes of the national anthems faded, the Stadio Olimpico was filled with a cathartic, guttural and grateful roar. Football. Nations. Many people in the same place. Screaming adult adults. How we have missed all this.
And the football? After a nervous start, Italy soon took control. Roberto Mancini’s only big decision was to leave Federico Chiesa out for Domenico Berardi, and in a restless and relentless first half, Berardi was one of the most dangerous players on the field: fast and elusive, whether attacking from the right wing or falling to midfield. to receive. On the other flank, Leonardo Spinazzola was licensed to charge forward from the left side.
And there was something immensely comforting about seeing Giorgio Chiellini on defense: He is now 36 years old and playing his sixth tournament, still winning everything in the air, still looking like the father who could beat all the other dads. He could even have opened the scoring, his header forcing Ugurcan Cakir into a spiral save in the 22nd minute.
Italy were really impressive with the ball: moving it with speed and style, pressing with urgency and organization, changing and exchanging, executing clever angles. Before long, Turkey, heavily tilted as pre-tournament contenders, had all but retreated to the edge of their 18-yard area, leaving only veteran forward Burak Yilmaz up front to handle the channels. But despite all the pressure from Italy, Chiellini and Lorenzo Insigne had the best chances, as time went on they actually seemed less likely to score, not more. The break came and went with the Italians, both on the pitch and in the stands, starting to get a little frustrated.
Seven minutes into the second half, the game finally broke down. Throughout the night, Berardi had been hacking off his strongest left foot, forcing left-back Umut Meras to follow him. Now, with a swagger and a dance, Berardi feinted to the right, leaving Meras crawling in the dust. The cross was hopeful rather than accurate, yet an unbalanced Merih Demiral couldn’t keep the ball from hitting him in the chest and falling into the net.
With 25 minutes remaining, Berardi hung the ball at the back post, where the excellent Spinazzola bunted, took a shot and forced a save with Cakir’s fingertips. With the ball loose, Immobile pounced: happily crashing it in a goal that he has scored so many times for Lazio, but not once in the national colors. For such a prolific scorer at the Serie A level, Immobile has often been accused of flattering or misleading the national team. And so when the ball hit the net, it felt like an intensely liberating moment not just for Italy but for Immobile himself – a man who had finally made it onto the biggest stage of all.
Turkey coach Senol Gunes was very proactive in trying to change things. At halftime he brought in the rhythm of Cengiz Under, who could easily have scored a breakaway goal after stealing from Jorginho after a quick free-kick. But the fluidity and strength that characterized many of his excellent performances during qualifying was strangely absent here. And with 12 minutes to go, Italy applied the finishing touch.
Once again, Turkey were the architects of their own demise. Italy’s press was perfectly in sync again as Cakir diverted a horrible punt straight to Berardi, and in an instant Italy was off again. Three crisp passes, tap-tap-tap from right to left. Insigne provided the curly finish and Italy came back. It has been five long years. But it may be worth the wait.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism