UEFA 2020 Euro Championship – Day 2
Group A: Turkey (0) 0 – 3 (0) Italy
Goal-scorers: Demiral (53’og), Immobile (66′), Insigne (79′)
Olympic Stadium, Rome
Well before even a ball had been kicked, I found myself irritated by a couple of things. First, the fact that the Italians wore all white rather than their home colours. Italy could have worn blue with Turkey in all red. A pointless UEFA directive. Secondly, the match ball was delivered on a sponsored electric car for kick-off. In the parlance of Line of Duty, what in the mother of God won’t UEFA try and commercialise. I know events have to make money but is this gimmickry really necessary.
Thankfully the action on the pitch reminded us all that there was a football tournament to be played. The Azzuri were on the front foot from the off under the watchful eye of their coach Roberto Mancini, resplendent in an outfit that paid homage to American TV news anchor-men of the 1980s. Despite all their dominance, the nearest Italy got to scoring in the opening forty-five minutes was a towering header from veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini which brought a fine save from Ugurcan Cakir. As the half wound down the Italians resorted to long range efforts which were high and wide, and an unsuccessful handball appeal, and you wondered whether they were becoming frustrated at the Turks getting everyone behind the ball.
What the home side needed was an early goal and it duly arrived eight minutes after the restart. Domenico Berardi out wide fired in a cross, which struck Demiral, and the breakthrough was made. From then on in there was only one winner and it was no surprise when Immobile scored from close range after Cakir had parried Spinazzola’s shot on sixty-six minutes. The Azzuri then made a little bit of history with eleven minutes remaining, when after ‘keeper Cakir gave away the ball and Italy played in Insigne, who curled in first-time to make it 3-0, making it the first time the Italians had scored three goals in the Euro Finals.
One game down, fifty to go and a more than decent start to the competition.
Day 2 and its three games today – armchair football heaven – starting with the other Group A teams, Wales and Switzerland who face each other in Baku at the Olympic Stadium. Group B then gets underway with Denmark hosting Finland in Copenhagen at the Parken Stadium with Saturday’s action completed with Russia welcoming Belgium to the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.
Wales and the Swiss met in the Euro2012 Qualifiers in a group that also contained England, Montenegro and Bulgaria. Switzerland beat Wales 4-1 in Basel in October 2010, with the Red Dragons gaining revenge with a 2-0 win in Swansea a year later with a penalty from Aaron Ramsey and a goal from Gareth Bale. Neither side progressed to the Finals, with England and Montenegro finishing first and second respectively. The Welsh qualified for Euro2020 after finishing as runners-up to Croatia, pipping Slovakia by a single point. Switzerland finished top of their group by a point from Denmark, with their only loss again the Danes, who whilst going unbeaten, drew four of their eight fixtures, costing them top spot. Wales were spectacular in Euro2016 reaching the Semi-Finals, but they come into this tournament on the back of a 3-0 defeat to France and a 0-0 with Albania. The Swiss meanwhile picked up two wins, beating the USA 2-1 and a 7-1 demolition of Liechtenstein. This could be a cagey one and both sides maybe happy with a point from the game.
Denmark and Finland have faced each other in the Euros but only in the Qualifiers for the 1988 Tournament in West Germany. The two were joined by Czechoslovakia and Wales in Group 6 with the Danes winning through, a point ahead of Czechoslovakia. Finland finished bottom, losing both games to the Danish 1-0. Denmark of course famously and against all odds won the title in 1992, after Yugoslavia were banned from taking part. In their last two friendlies they drew 1-1 with Germany and overcame Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-0 in Brondby. Finland qualified for these Finals after a second-place finish to Italy, edging out Greece, winning six and losing four in their ten games. The Finns lost both their friendlies prior to the Euros, 2-0 in Sweden and a 1-0 home defeat to Estonia in Helsinki. The Danes to take this one for me with Finland the whipping boys of Group B.
The day’s action concludes with Russia and much-fancied Belgium meeting. These two were in the same group in the qualifiers, with Belgium finishing top after winning all ten games, including a 3-1 home win over Russia and an emphatic 4-1 win in St Petersburg. The Belgians final warm-up game saw them beat Croatia with a first-half goal from Romelu Lukaku, whilst Russia ended with a 1-0 victory over Bulgaria. The head says Belgium will win this, although you’d expect Russia to make it hard for them and so I don’t expect a repeat of the big wins the Belgians gained in qualification.