Postponed by a year, the biggest footballing event since the coronavirus brought the world to a halt, kicked off Friday at the Stadio Olimpico — a milestone both for European and world sports.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy came into the match on a 27-match unbeaten run, and their fine form showed early on as the Azzurri dominated possession and went close with a pair of headers from corner kicks just past the 20-minute mark.
Italy ratcheted up the pressure as half-time approached and, after some intricate build-up play, Ciro Immobile was sprung in the box only to fire right at Turkey keeper Ugurcan Cakir as the teams went into the break locked in a 0-0 draw.
“We have played many teams that have done what Turkey did this evening. They put everyone [back] there, give you little space and make it hard for you to score,” said Mancini.
“But the lads had patience. We waited, kept playing, tried to get that goal, then we got it. The lads did really well. The first half wasn’t straightforward and in a game like that, even if they [Turkey] put everyone back, if you give one [goal] away on the break, the game changes.”
A goalmouth scramble led to Italy’s second, with Immobile pouncing on a loose ball in front of the Turkish goal and firing home to double the advantage of Mancini’s side.
Lorenzo Insigne put the game away for Italy in the 79th minute, curling home a beautiful first-time shot after Turkey’s Cakir hooked a goal kick right to the opposing side and Italy pounced for their third.
Italy’s third goal made history as it marked the first time they had scored three goals in a match at the Euros in their 39th attempt.
“It was important to start well here in Rome, and it is a joy for us and for all the Italians,” Mancini told Rai.
“It was a great evening, I hope there will be many more, but there are still six to go before Wembley”.
After a build-up featuring a spine-tingling performance from opera singer Andrea Bocelli, 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.
Italy were determined to make a strong start five years on from their last major tournament appearance, having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and they started strongly.
The visitors were happy to sit deep and invite pressure and rarely ventured into the Italian half throughout the opening period, but Mancini’s side were left frustrated in their efforts to break through the wall of red shirts.
Giorgio Chiellini had a header tipped over with a spectacular one-handed save by Cakir and Immobile nodded a cross wide as the hosts stretched the Turkish defence.
Insigne curled a shot straight at Cakir from the edge of the box, and Immobile fired into the keeper’s arms as Italy headed in at the break with 14 attempts to none from Turkey.
Italy’s patience was rewarded when Berardi fired a cross into the 6-yard box where Demiral chested the ball into the net — the first time in European Championship history that the tournament’s opening goal was an own goal.
Spinazzola had a shot beaten away, and Manuel Locatelli’s low effort was palmed wide before Immobile doubled Italy’s lead by pouncing on Cakir’s parry from another Spinazzola effort to knock in the rebound.
“We showed patience in the first half,” Immobile said. “Turkey are a strong side and caused problems for many top teams. We tried to tire them out, moving the ball left and right and trying to spread them. Unfortunately, we regularly struggled to break their wall.
“Turkey were more tired after the break. After the [first] goal they had to open up some space, so that’s when our quality emerged.”
The Azzurri’s dominance was rewarded again when Immobile threaded a pass to Insigne, who placed a precise finish into the bottom corner with 11 minutes remaining.
Mancini told his players in the prematch news conference that they should enjoy themselves and seek to entertain, and that was exactly what they did for a jubilant home crowd.