Euro 2020: Perfect night on and off the pitch for Italy as it ‘sends a message’ to rivals
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It started with a stunning take on Nessun Dorma, showcased brilliant attacking play and ended with Italy gleefully celebrating a defensive block.
The opening night of the European Championship could not have been better for the Azzurri on or off the pitch in Rome – and it was an evening that perfectly summed up the best of their past and present.
Few had Roberto Mancini’s side as their favorites to go through this tournament, but they were in great shape, scoring three goals in a Euro game for the first time – a remarkable statistic given that they have reached the final three times and won it once.
“They sent a little message to everyone,” said former England captain Alan Shearer.
It’s a dramatic turnaround from where they were three years ago, when they hit rock bottom with the unthinkable – failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
They have lost two of their first five games following Mancini’s appointment. But the former Manchester City manager has overseen a remarkable turnaround, with a pungent-looking side that are unbeaten in 28, taking nine straight wins and keeping the sheets clean in all of those games.
Former City defender Micah Richards told BBC Radio 5 Live: “People will go over the top, but you want the first game to be a success and we certainly get that.
“Not only the players but the manager deserve huge credit for instilling that confidence in the players.”
Shearer told BBC One that “Italy was a mess when Mancini took over,” adding: “He changed the style of play. They were impressive in everything they did, not just with the balloon but also without. “
Italy last hosted a game at a major tournament at the 1990 World Cup and there was a flashback before kick-off as world-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli sang Nessun Dorma in front of the 16,000 fans at the Stadio Olimpico.
“It was important to start well in Rome and I think it’s a satisfaction for the public and for the Italians,” said Mancini. “There was a lot of help from the crowd.
“It was a great night, I hope there are many more, but there are still six more for Wembley.”
Although impressive at the top of the pitch, the Italians have long been known for their art of defending and veteran center-back Giorgio Chiellini showed what it still means at the age of 36, hitting the air to celebrate after a late block against Turkey. striker Burak Yilmaz to preserve a clean sheet.
“It will make people stand up and take notice,” said former England defender Rio Ferdinand. “If you play against Italy you have to play. They have been successful tactically with a system that works for them.
“There will be more difficult tests to come, but they have treated Turkey insistently. It will wake up a few people if they have question marks about Italy.”
With central midfielder Marco Verratti not yet back, the fit Italians will have to stop.
Former Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas added: “You can see it at the end of the game, they’re all together and you feel it.
“They are friends and they want to play for each other.”