Defensive high line, Spinazzola and other highlights of new-look Italy
Senol Gunes knew what he was talking about when he spoke of opening game surprises. The World Cup that he and Turkey will look back in wonder at began with Senegal beating France. The first night of 1990 World Cup had nine-man Cameroon shock defending champions Argentina in Milan. Euro 2004 started with Portugal’s golden generation losing to Greece. Yes, first games of a major competition can be difficult.
But against an Italy recalibrated with new ideas of passing and pressing, coach Gunes’ plans of getting Turkey to win their first-ever opening match of a European competition ran aground. This was an Italy that didn’t shirk from playing a high line despite centre-backs having a combined age of 70. Some day that can be a problem but it wasn’t on Friday. This was an Italy whose left-back Leonardo Spinazzola was a constant attacking threat. An Italy that had 64% possession, played 616 passes—Turkey played 360—with 87% accuracy. The medium-range passes completed by central defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci (58 and 50 respectively), by Jorginho (54), at the base of the midfield, and advanced midfielders Nicolo Barella (34) and Manuel Locatelli (32) showed how Italy worked the ball forward by finding players close to each other. No Marco Verratti, no problem.
“We were patient, we moved the ball around well,” said Spinazzola, who plays for Roma. It led to Italy making 24 goal attempts; Turkey had three.
Chiellini, who knows about the despair that shrouded a failed World Cup qualifying campaign in 2017, spent so much time in Turkish territory that it felt like he had left home to see the world. Among those who played 60 minutes or more, only Jorginho had greater passing accuracy, 94% to Chiellini’s 93%. Chiellini, who had an early header tipped over, completed a good night with a late interception that had him pumping his hands in celebration.
Also read | Italy open Euro 2020 with 3-0 win over Turkey
So it fit that at Rome’s iconic Stadio Olimpico, where Milkha Singh ran the best race by an Indian in an Olympics and Lothar Matthaeus held aloft a World Cup, Italy would register the biggest win in the opening game of a competition that turned 61. Nearly 16,000 people were at the stadium, the largest gathering for football in over a year in a country that was the first in Europe to feel the brunt of Covid-19 last year. “We have finally got to come together after so long of this damned virus,” Italy forward Ciro Immobile told RAI Sport after the 3-0 win, which was also the number of goals Turkey conceded in their entire qualifying campaign. At their 39th attempt of trying, Italy have won a Euro game by over two goals.
“Games are not won by chance,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini after extending his unbeaten run to 28 games and eight successive clean sheets. “We’ve improved a lot but we can still improve more.”
That Domenico Berardi, Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne contributed or scored means Mancini can stick to playing 4-3-3 and not moan the absence of a target man. Often Italy’s highest player in the pitch, Berardi didn’t score but it was his delivery that Juventus centre-back Merih Demiral chested into his own goal—a first in a Euro opener— while trying to cushion the ball for goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir. Having thwarted Italy with a low block, Turkey were emboldened enough to use winger Cengiz Under’s speed in the second half. Under did have a shot that didn’t test Italy goalie Gianluigi Donnarumma but soon after that half-time substitution, Turkey lost their defensive shape. Another Spinazzola sortie fetched the second because Cakir could only parry the left-back’s shot into Immobile’s path. As technical observer for UEFA, the former Argentina midfielder Esteban Cambiasso said Spinazzola was the star of the match. Spinazzola had two shots on target; the only Italians to match that were Immobile and Insigne.
Also see | Euro 2020, Turkey vs Italy: Action in images
Immobile also provided the assist for his friend Insigne, the last of the night’s second-half goals. Immobile has now scored in his last three games for Italy, allaying fears of the Lazio forward (prolific in Serie A with 155 goals in 260 games) not turning up in internationals. He did have an Italy goal drought lasting two years, beginning with that World Cup playoff loss against Sweden in 2017, but even if he didn’t always pick him, Mancini always backed the 31-year-old striker.
“Scoring a goal in my Euros debut at my stadium, it doesn’t get better,” said Immobile, the 2020 European Golden Shoe winner. “Turkey were more tired after the break, and after the goal they had to open up some spaces, so that’s when our quality emerged.”
For Mancini, nattily dressed and swishing arms on the touchline like an orchestra conductor, it “was a great evening.” “But there are still six to go before Wembley,” he said, referring to the final a month from Friday.
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