Italy will hope their excellent record at the Stadio Olimpico can propel them towards Euro 2020 glory in Roberto Mancini's first tournament as coach, with a tricky test against Turkey first up for the competition's curtain-raiser on Friday.
It has been all change for Italy since their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, with Mancini installed as Gian Piero Ventura's replacement and tasked with restoring the Azzurri's reputation.
What they hope will help is the fact all three of their group games – and a quarter-final – will be played at Rome's Stadio Olimpico, where they have never lost (W6 2D) in eight matches at major tournaments, while the Azzurri were one of just two teams along with Belgium to win all of their 10 qualifiers.
Of course, Italy wrapped up their qualifying campaign almost two years ago, with these finals pushed back 12 months because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Mancini has vowed to do the country proud after a difficult time as they look to claim a first European Championship since 1968.
8 - For the first time in their history, #Italy have won eight consecutive games in all competitions without conceding a goal in the process. Impassable. #ItaliaRepubblicaCeca pic.twitter.com/92wtubAZM0— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) June 4, 2021
In an open letter to fans, he wrote: "Sport in these moments is an essential tool of our life. It can help us feel better. Never before have we so badly needed it.
"Our national team is aware of representing a fantastic and determined people, and for this reason I, together with the staff and the guys who take the field, will use all the minutes of this event to honour the country that we represent.
"They will be moments of joy that will make us forget the past year for just a moment."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Italy – Jorginho
While he will not necessarily be the man tasked with putting the ball in the net, unless Italy get a penalty, Jorginho performs a crucial function for Italy. He was one of three players to record over 1,000 touches in qualifying and his role as a conduit in possession is essential to how Mancini's team play. If he has a difficult game, the chances are the Azzurri will struggle by extension.
Turkey – Hakan Calhanoglu
Although Italy will be favourites here, Turkey should not be underestimated. Possessing the youngest squad at the Euros, they are a vibrant and technically gifted bunch. Arguably encapsulating those traits better than anyone else in the team is Calhanoglu. The Milan midfielder offers almost guaranteed creativity, as evidenced by the fact he created the most chances in Serie A (98) in 2020-21, while his nine assists came from an xA (expected assists) value of 8.5, suggesting his haul was born out of consistency rather than luck.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Despite playing 38 games in the European Championship, Italy have never scored more than two goals in a match. They have also drawn more games than any other side in the tournament's history (16), while also taking part in the most goalless matches (eight).
- The Azzurri scored 37 goals in their 10 qualification matches (3.7 per game); this was the same tally as they scored in qualification for Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup combined (37 goals in 22 games).
- Turkey conceded only three goals in 10 games in the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, the joint-best defensive record alongside Belgium.
- This will be Senol Gunes' second major tournament as Turkey head coach (World Cup/European Championships), 18 years after leading his nation to a third place at the 2002 World Cup, their best-ever performance in the competition.
- Turkey and Italy's only previous encounter in a major tournament was at Euro 2000, also on 11th June. It was their opening game of the tournament, ending 2-1 to Italy courtesy of goals from Antonio Conte and Filippo Inzaghi, the latter of whom netted a penalty. It was also in that game that Okan Buruk scored Turkey's first ever goal in the European Championship.