Euro 2020(1): Italy 3-0 Turkey
There were only 16,000 people in the Stadio Olimpico last night, but the symbolism of the moment was clear. It’s been a long and difficult past 16 months. Frightening, at times. Many of us have lost friends and family. Ominous talk of a “new normal” without clarifying what this might actually look like has instilled an extra layer of suspicion to an already distrustful world. The sooner things reopen – subject, of course to it being safe to do so – the better. We needed last night. We deserved it.
We certainly deserved the tiny remote control car which drove onto the pitch before the match, delivering the match ball. It’s tempting to believe that UEFA approached this with a knowing wink, so absurd did it all look, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that this wasn’t the case. Football is powered by its self-importance and pomposity, and its lack of self-awareness can be part of its charm, at times. I mean (and this is something that we really do not talk about enough), the Champions League has an anthem. As the tiny car made its way from the pitch after completing its delivery, further questions raised their heads. Will they be using different makes and models of little cars for different matches? And, presuming that they continue with this bizarre experiment, how do they top it in the latter stages of the competition? We should probably expect Lady Penelope’s car from Thunderbirds for the final – perhaps Noel Gallagher can drive it.
Italy’s perfect evening started with Andrea Bocelli belting out Nessun Dorma. It was a performance that tapped into the recent bout of nostalgia for the 1990 World Cup, a dog-whistle back to a time when it wasn’t considered a form of mental illness to be optimistic about the future. The Italian team had already turned up in suits based on those worn by Enzo Bearzot when Italy won the World Cup in 1982, Roberto Mancini the master of all he surveys following a stunning run of form since his appointment in 2018. With 27 wins from his thirty games in charge – including a perfect ten in qualifying for this very competition – he’s breathed such life back into a nation that had been reeling from its worst performance in decades, in failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals.
For forty-five minutes, though, Italy knocked politely on Turkey’s door without really threatening to break it down. They had a couple of shouts for handball inside the penalty area which were brushed aside. That, combined with the non-intervention of the robotic beady eye, was enough to give the match a far more aesthetically pleasing feel than anything from the last World Cup. “Are they actually using VAR in this tournament?”, my companion asked, about five minutes from half-time. They are, but perhaps there’s been an outbreak of common sense within UEFA that elite level football shouldn’t become a race to accumulate as many penalty kicks as possible in the space of 90 minutes.
Turkey’s plan, which seemed to be to sit back as deeply as possible keep their fingers crossed that their goal could lead a charmed life, worked fairly well for 45 minutes, but such limited gameplans are inherently risky. What’s the alternate plan for if – or when – the opposition break through your defence? Is there any outlet for attack at all? There didn’t seem to be much of one for Turkey. Every time they managed to get the ball under control, Italy’s high press was boxing them back, forcing their players to look sideways, and unsettling them in possession.
Eight minutes into the second half, Italy broke through with the assistance of a slice of luck. Domenico Berardi wriggled himself into space on the right hand side. His was aimlessly powerful, but it had its desired effect. Merih Demiral was tracking back to cover, but the cross was powerful and targeted directly at his chest, smacking off it and in, to give Italy the lead. It was a slice of good luck, but Italy more than warranted the goal on the basis of the previous 52 minutes.
It’s the fundamental contradiction at the heart of defensive football. Playing for the draw is understandable at times, but falling behind under such circumstances makes getting back into the game all the more difficult. When Turkey, who’d offered practically nothing prior to the goal, had little to offer going forward afterwards, and it only took Italy thirteen minutes to double their lead, when Spinazzola’s shot was blocked by Cakir, only for Ciro Immobile to put the ball into the empty goal to put the result beyond any reasonable doubt.
With eleven minutes to play, tragedy turned to farce for Turkey, when Cakir’s attempted clearance sliced straight to Berardi. With Turkey’s defence flat-footed by their goalkeeper’s moment of brain-melt, it took three diagonal passes to find Insigne, who drove the ball in to turn a comfortable lead into something that looked as though it could turn into a rout. This being Italy, though, feet came off the pedal with the third goal. There was still time, however, for the 36 year old Giorgio Chiellini to block a low cross and celebrate as though he’d scored all three of Italy’s goals himself.
It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if Turkey had pulled a goal back – though frankly it would have been more than they deserved – but Chiellini, a professional with 21 years under his belt, knew exactly what he was doing. The commitment and the example to other. Chiellini’s message was clear, and it was aimed at everybody, This is his level, and he expects it of his team-mates as well. And if you’re watching this and now wondering how you’re ever going to get past this man-mountain of a defender… well, that was very much the intention.
Is it possible to sound a note of caution without wishing to sound like you’re raining on Italy’s parade? They were as good as the pre-tournament predictions had suggested they would be, and the result was really never in doubt. Having said that, though… Turkey were bad, lot worse than we’d have predicted beforehand, and it’s reasonable to ask how much we can know about Italy when their opposition was so limited. Turkey gifted two of Italy’s goals to them, and Italy’s biggest risk ahead of their next game against Switzerland may even be complacency brought about by the comfortable margin of this win. They’ll have to face more testing opposition than this if they’re to lift this trophy in four weeks time – at least, we hope they will – but they’re up and running. The best thing to be said about Turkey’s performance is that it’ll give Wales a lift ahead of their match against them.