Rome (AP) Italy, the first country in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, somehow seems appropriate to host the opening game of the European Championship.
Even though Euro 2020 started in 2021.
Italy’s biggest spectator for a year and a half will see the Azuri team aiming for the title take on the surprise Turkish team at Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Friday.
“I’ve been waiting for this European Championship for a year, but I can’t wait to hear 15,000 people singing the national anthem,” said veteran Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci. “Football with supporters in the stadium is another sport.”
After embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy won all 10 qualifying matches for Euro 2020 and went 27 unbeaten matches.
“We want to go forever,” Bonucci said. “The other national teams have more experience, but we can play with anyone. (Romelu) There is no Lukaku or Cristiano Ronaldo. Our strength is the team.
Turkey scored four points against France in qualifying, beat the World Cup champion 2-0, lost only one game and finished second in the group.
“We are proud to be part of this tournament and to play the opener,” said Turkish coach enol Gnes. “Every opening game is a surprise and we hope to be able to do it in the spring.”
The match also enjoys some political support after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi named Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a “dictator” in April. Turkey has summoned an Italian ambassador to protest and a spokesperson for the president has asked Draghi to withdraw his remarks. Draghi, however, did not issue a public apology or withdrawal.
Draghi will attend the G7 summit in the UK on Friday, so he has no plans to attend the game. Erdogan will not be present either.
The other two teams from Group A, Wales and Switzerland, will meet in Baku, Azerbaijan on Saturday.
This year’s tournament will take place in 11 cities across the European continent.
The Italian government has decided that it can fill up to 25% of the capacity of four matches hosted by Stadio Olimpico.
This equates to a maximum of 15,948 spectators.
Ticket holders are required to present one of the three documents to enter Stadio Olimpico. Certificate from Italian health authorities showing they have been vaccinated with COVID-19, another document from Italian health authorities showing that they have recovered from the coronavirus within 6 months, or within 48 hours of kick off.
Over 2,000 tickets for the opening match have been sold in Turkey, but many of those fans have no plans to play in the match.
Fans arriving at the stadium will measure their body temperature with a thermal scanner and be taken to the quarantine zone by anyone with a fever or other symptoms of coronavirus.
The protocol appears to be a small price to pay after Italy became the epicenter of a pandemic in Europe in early 2020, as cities like Bergamo struggled to catch up with the sick and the dead. More than 125,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been confirmed in the country, affecting more than 4 million people, including many members of the Italian team (athletes and coaches).
Italy have won scoreless in the last eight games since Roberto Mancini took over as manager, and have scored 20 goals in 32 games.
Record-breaking goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has retired from international football after failing to qualify for the World Cup, but Italy remains solid in the position of 22-year-old Gianluigi Buffon between the posts. Bonucci and Italian captain Giorgio Chiellini are also a solid and experienced pair in central defense.
One of Turkey’s main strengths is also its rear robustness. Only three goals were allowed in qualifying, and in the recent World Cup qualifiers Memphis Depay and Erling Haaland failed to keep any points.
Both sides are equally center-forward and strong.
Ciro Immobile won the European Golden Boot award in 2019-2020 when he tied his Serie A record with 36 goals.
Burak Ylmaz is the second highest scorer in Turkish history, behind retiree Hakan kr (51 goals) with 29 goals.
Opera and plane
Andrea Bocelli sings the aria “Nessun Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini at the opening ceremony of the tournament before kick-off.
The ceremony will also include a virtual performance with U2 star Bono and The Edge with DJ Martin Garrix.
Other AP Soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Andrew Dampf is located at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf
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