There may be many fair questions about the nature of this pan-continental tournament in the midst of Covid-19, but much of this opening night has hit the right notes. This was especially true for Andrea Bocelli, a vintage delivery of No Dorma to remind us what it’s all about, and that brushstroke of a final finish by Lorenzo Insigne.
There was even the satisfaction of a vintage Italian blank sheet, the meaning of which could be seen in Giorgio Chiellini celebrating his brilliant last block on Buruk Yilmaz.
Roberto Mancini’s side have raised a flag, although they will still have to prove that they can withstand greater forces. A very talkative young Turkish party was extremely poor in ideas and execution. They just looked tired, which was all the more surprising considering their supposed legs, the lack of minutes compared to other teams, and the fact that they were barely coming out of their own box. Senol Gunes’ team ended up being completely overwhelmed by an Italian team who pressed them all over the field, until the end of stoppage time.
Turkey started to look intimidated by the opportunity and started trying to undermine what Italy was. They just put a block around their box and went from there. Literally. When Cengiz Under broke through just before the first goal, he only had to continue on his own as he had no teammate with him.
In such cases, it’s hard not to think that conceding – and especially conceding the way they scored – is fully deserved. This is what will happen when you crowd the men around the box with little ambition.
But that might also be what happens when you go for this ridiculous 24-team structure, which previously had such a clean and symmetrical 16-team format. Four third out of six teams in progress mean managers know that a single point gives you real grip. If you don’t lose your first match, you’re a third of the way. The 1986 World Cup actually saw two teams – Bulgaria and Uruguay – qualify in just two draws, although admittedly that was before three points for a win. It nevertheless encourages defensive football.
We could see a lot of it over the next six days.
Italy still needed a lot more ingenuity.
This is why this game can be in some way indicative for them. They were undeniably well-honed, which is perhaps inevitable when their manager is Mancini. He is one of only three in the entire tournament to have won one of the five major leagues. This upper class could be seen in so many small angled passes, so many beautiful moves – a lot emanating from Jorginho.
Both had to prove decisive to win the match, for their part, but after a first goal that could only come in one imaginable way.
Berardi did very well, both in terms of his turn and his ball. He used the number of Turkish players in the box against them, forcing Merih Demiral to make a decision and ultimately forcing him to send the ball into his own goal.
After that, Turkey was spent. It applied to their idea and their energy. From there, Italy could only eliminate them.
The space was there, the errors were there. Ciro Immobile finally got his goal by jumping on a slip in the box, before then providing the ball for the time of the match. The Lazio forward cut the Turkish defense in half with a brilliant pass, allowing Insigne to bring the ball home.
It was a fitting fulfillment for Italy’s fully deserved victory, although it perhaps makes the victory and the team look better than it necessarily was.
This is not to doubt the quality of the side. They are clearly good. The question is whether they can be champions.
Italy is now fully involved in this conversation. Much of the talk about Turkey now seems misguided. They have a lot to do to recover from it, and recover their chances of qualifying. Italy can look much further.