Fireworks as Italy, Turkey clash in opener

The much-anticipated Euro 2020 gets begin on Friday (today) after a year’s delay, with Italy hosting fast-improving Turkey at the legendary Stadio Olimpico.

While the Azzurri hope to take advantage of home advantage in Rome, their Turkish counterparts are hoping to avoid defeat in their first match of the competition for the fifth time.

Four-time world champions Italy will marry vast experience with youth this summer, as they attempt to end a half-century of European Championship hurt, with one of their most fancied squads in years.

Due to their consistently excellent form during last season, the Azzurri – yet to be crowned continental champions since their last success back in 1968 – come into Group A not only as favourites to progress as winners, but also as one of the favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy next month.

Allied to their superb record under coach Roberto Mancini – who has transformed a side lacking in direction and belief into a slick, well-oiled winning machine since his appointment in 2018 – La Nazionale will play each of their group stage games in the Italian capital; starting with a testing opening night encounter with Mediterranean rivals Turkey.

Under his guidance, Italy have eased to qualification for both the Euros and the semi-finals of the Nations League, while posting three wins from as many fixtures so far on the road to Qatar 2022 – meanwhile extending their unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifiers to a staggering 56 games.

Though expectation outside the transcontinental nation remains muted, Turkey coach Senol Gunes – who returned to lead his country in 2019, having overseen their third-place finish in the 2002 World Cup – will lead a confident and disciplined side into the Olimpico colosseum on Friday evening.

Taking the father figure role watching over the youngest squad at the Euros – with an average age of just under 25 years – Gunes has helped to instill some significant substance in defence, without sacrificing the flair traditionally associated with some of the best Turkish sides.

As several talented defenders came through the ranks to bolster their back line, the Crescent-Stars cruised through to the Euros having taken four points from World Cup-winners France. With new names including Serie A-based duo Merih Demiral and Kaan Ayhan being drafted in, they conceded just three times during qualifying and kept eight clean sheets throughout the 10-game process.

In all, Turkey have proven exceptionally hard to get the better of in recent times, losing on only three occasions in their 26 matches since Gunes stepped back into one of the hottest of hotseats.

Quarter-finalists in 2000 and then surprise contestants in the final four of the 2008 edition, Turkey have, this month, taken advantage of lightweight post-season opposition to build a six-game unbeaten run, before they tackle the first examination of their credentials to go deep into this year’s main event.

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