So it begins. With real life Bocelli and virtual Bono, a toy car that will inevitably break down if it is part of every pre-match pomp, Italy inexplicably wearing white and, yes, some football.
For the Azzurri , their tempo set majestically by Chelsea’s Jorginho, this was a fine start on home turf. For Turkey’s young side, considered dark horses by some because of a miserly defensive record, it was a lesson in the level required on the tournament stage as they were penned back and beaten even more resoundingly than the 3-0 scoreline suggested. There is much work to do if they are to emerge from a group also containing Wales and Switzerland.
But the main objective of this evening was lift off, finally getting this cursed tournament underway. Euro 2020(1) is going to be a competition like no other, a remote experience irrespective of the pandemic that delayed its staging by a year. Tonight we were in Rome, tomorrow we will visit Baku, Copenhagen and St Petersburg – without having to get off the sofa.
Beside limited attendances and travel restrictions across the 11 host cities, the nonsense of hosting it in all corners of the continent meant this was always going to be the summer of second-screen accompaniments, a month lived through social media more than real life action. European club football has the Gazprom, let this tournament be the Tik Tok.
In England it has been framed as a sequel to Euro 96, the nostalgia and recollection of that summer omnipresent across all forms of media in the past few days, but this opening fixture unsurprisingly brought Italia 90 flavours. Andrea Bocelli’s emotional performance of Nessun Dorma during the opening ceremony contributed to that, of course, but so too the venue where Toto Schillaci and Andreas Brehme produced defining moments and that familiar brand of derisory howl which Italian supporters specialise in.
Maybe Euro 2020 will take on an identity of its own in time but there remains a feeling that its fragmentation will leave a feeling of emptiness.
That said, this game was entertaining despite its one-sidedness. If this prologue was a vision of what is to come over the next 31 days, ending with a showdown at Wembley in front of 45,000 or more supporters on July 11, we are in for an enjoyable tournament in spite of low expectations and fears over player fatigue.
For the Azzurri to reach the last four in London they simply need to deliver more of the same, albeit against better opponents than this. Roberto Mancini’s side, who like England have the luxury of playing every group game at home, came into the tournament with an impressive, if unexciting, 27-game unbeaten run.
Italy controlled possession and territory for most of the opening half but a finishing touch eluded them. Fear not, it seemed they simply needed time to warm up. Lorenzo Insigne, who spent the evening drifting and weaving, curled wide when attempting to find the far corner 17 minutes in and Giorgio Chiellini’s firm, goalbound header was denied by a top stop from Ugurcan Cakir.
So much of their play went through Jorginho, whose metronomic passing repeatedly set team-mates away and kept the ball out of Turkish reach. The extra second of space available in the international game benefits his tempo, so too Turkey’s willingness to let their opponents have the ball and not press with the ferocity he routinely faces in the Premier League.
Bocelli hit the high notes during the opening ceremony but it was Jorginho who conducted the orchestra for 90 minutes after and it was worth his critics at Chelsea considering the words of Cesc Fabregas in BBC’s studio beforehand.
“One of the biggest reasons why I left Chelsea was because of him,” the former Spain midfielder said. “He is a very smart player. Intelligent. A good passer of the ball. The only thing that sometimes I could say about him is that he releases the ball too quickly when you can play it forward. You can see that he makes the team tick.”
On this evidence it was impossible to argue otherwise.
At the break the stats sheet displayed 14 attempts on goal to nil but parity remained on the scoreboard for another eight minutes of the second period as Domenico Berardi charged down the inside-right channel before centring, the ball deflecting off the midriff of Merih Demiral, the Juventus defender, for an unfortunate own goal.
There was nothing Demiral could have done but of far more concern at that point was Turkey’s toothlessness going forward. Italy were not willing to settle for a single-goal lead, though, and they looked more likely to score having broken the deadlock.
A second, arriving in the 66th minute, felt inevitable. Ciro Immobile produced the finish but it arrived after Cakir parried Leonardo Spinazzola’s firm effort. The third, a deserved goal for Insigne, merely rubbed salt into gaping Turkish wounds.