The Euro 2020 football bonanza gets underway Friday night with Italy colliding with Turkey in a Group A game. Roberto Mancini’s Azzuri are among the tournament leading lights after stringing together a long unbeaten run, dating back to 2018. Europe’s sixth ranked side have a strong team ethic, which compensates for absence of extravagantly gifted individual stars of yesteryear. A peerless, one hundred percent winning record during qualifiers has seen bookmakers install the 1968 champions as fifth favourites behind England, France, Belgium and Spain.
A key tenet of Mancini’s reign has been refusal to rely solely on players from Serie A’s traditional giants. Friday’s encounter could, for example, see the former Manchester City boss give playing time to Sassuolo trio Manuel Locatelli, Giacomo Raspadori and Domenico Berardi. A subject of intense transfer speculation after being released by AC Milan, Gianluigi Donnaruma has seen off competition from Torino’s Salvatore Sirigu to make the number one jersey his own.
Opponents Turkey boast the tournament’s most experienced coach in Senol Gunes, who as a 50-year-old famously guided an inexperienced Turkish side to a semifinals place at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. He has assembled a fairly talented squad, powered by a trio from newly crowned Ligue One champions Lille. Right back Zeki Celik, attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici and top scorer Burak Yilmaz will be bristling with confidence having helped Christophe Gautier’s side to only the third title of their top flight history.
Gunes is expected to pair Juventus defender Merih Demiral with deputy skipper Caglar Soyuncu, who is coming off a successful season with English FA Cup winners Leicester City. Demiral has been nurtured in Turin by Juventus pair Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chellini but he’s unlikely to face both on Friday as Mancini has tended to pair either of them with Inter Milan’s Alessandro Bastoni or Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi. The Azzuri’s principal strength is however a hyperactive midfield featuring Jorginho, Nicola Barella and Marco Veratti.
Action continues on Saturday with Wales hosting Switzerland in another Group A tie; before Denmark and Finland commence Group B and Belgium confront Russia in the pick of the matches. The game in St Petersburg will be an opportunity for Belgium’s golden generation to stamp an early mark on a tournament in which they’ve never really made their mark. Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has retained the core of the side that reached the semis at the Russia 2018 World Cup. The spotlight is to fall on twice reigning English Premier League PFA player of the year Kevin de Bruyne who has recuperated from facial surgery in time for the opening Group B match.