Italy kicked off the European Championship emphatically on Friday when they put in an impressive performance to pass toothless Turkey 3-0 at the Stadio Olimpico and stamp their early authority on Group A.
After a scoreless first half, an own goal and goals from Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne were just the reward for the home side, who played with unwavering positivity from the start.
Their disheartening failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup seemed like a distant memory as they extended their unbeaten run to 28 games in a lavish atmosphere.
They were aided by a flat screen from Turkey, who lost their fifth consecutive opening game of a European Championship final and barely produced a worthwhile attack all night.
“It was important to start well here in Rome and it is a pleasure for us and for all Italians,” said coach Roberto Mancini.
“We put in a good performance and I think we have satisfied everyone, for the fans and all the Italians watching. (But) there are still six games to go and there are a lot of good teams.”
Switzerland and Wales, who face each other in the group’s second game in Baku on Saturday, always knew Italy were the group favourites, but the scale of their task suddenly seemed a bit bigger.
After a build-up with a hair-raising rendition of Nessun Dorma by opera singer Andrea Bocelli – with thoughts of Italia ’90 – a spectacular fireworks and a typically raw rendition of the Italian national anthem, the 16,000-strong audience was in fine voice by kick-off. They also got plenty to cheer as Italy made all the early runs against a Turkish team happy to sit deep and apply pressure. However, Mancini’s side was left frustrated in their efforts to break through the wall of red shirts.
Giorgio Chiellini got a header turned with a spectacular one-handed save by Ugurcan Cakir and Immobile nodded a cross wide as Italy went into halftime with 14 tries on zero for Turkey – but without a goal.
They kept sounding and their patience was rewarded when Berardi fired a cross into the six-yard box where Demiral chested the ball into the net – the first time in a European Championship that the opening goal of the tournament was an own goal.
The ever-dangerous Leonardo Spinazzola got a shot knocked away and Manuel Locatelli’s low stakes were palmed wide before Immobile doubled Italy’s lead by jumping on Cakir’s parry of another Spinazzola attempt to clean up the rebound.
The Azzurri’s dominance was again rewarded when Immobile gave a pass to Insigne, who set a precise finish in the bottom corner with 11 minutes to go.
It was the first time Italy had scored three goals in a match at the European Championship on their 39th attempt and got off to a perfect start.
Mancini had told his players to have fun and try to entertain and that was exactly what they did in front of a cheering home crowd.
There was only gloom in the visiting camp when veteran coach Senol Gunes, who led Turkey to third place at the 2002 World Cup, apologized for the performance.
“I expected a better game, and I’m disappointed and we’re sorry,” he said. “Italy completely controlled the game.”
On June 16, Italy will face Switzerland in Rome and Turkey will face Wales in Baku in the second round of Group A matches.