To everyone who shamelessly tipped four-time World Cup winners Italy as their Euro 2020 dark horses: Enjoy the victory. I hope it makes you happy. Dear lord, what a sad little life.
Indeed, the world’s eyes were all fixed on the Italian capital on Friday night, waiting to see what we should expect from Gli Azzurri this summer. It’s fair to say, even those who had predicted them to be sneaky outsiders for the trophy may not have expected them to be so electric.
Italy hammered Turkey 3-0 at Stadio Olimpico, kicking Euro 2020 off in style with three stunning goals, a clean sheet and one hell of a commanding performance. Frankly, Italians couldn’t have asked for more.
But what exactly did we learn about this Italy side – that has now extended its unbeaten run to 28 games – that we may not have known before Friday’s battering?
It’s not often a left-back is handed the Man of the Match trophy off the back of a 3-0 victory, but Leonardo Spinazzola earned that award hands down with a superb display against Turkey.
The AS Roma star was a relentless thorn in Turkey’s right-hand side, bombing up the left flank and doubling up on the suffering Mehmet Celik. His ability to play on either foot meant that defenders were unable to predict whether he would cut in or hit the byline, making it nearly impossible to stop his crosses.
Spinazzola’s constant presence in the final third also meant that Lorenzo Insigne was afforded an extra yard of space, and enjoyed the freedom to drift infield and curl the ball with his favoured right foot.
Whether he’s acting as a genuine attacking outlet or an effective distraction, Spinazzola is one of Italy’s key figures in this side. He can be prone to injury, so keeping him fit will be vital to Italy’s potential success.
Leonardo Bonucci may not convince every time he pulls on the Juventus shirt, and Giorgio Chiellini is 36 years of age, but when they don the Azzurri blue (or white on Friday), they’re a different animal.
The pair complement each other excellently, and they use their wealth of experience to talk their teammates through the high pressure moments step by step. They were perhaps fortunate to come up against an equally ancient Burak Yilmaz, but this is a guy who made Ligue 1 his playground last year.
Still, Chiellini and Bonucci marshalled him to perfection and didn’t give the striker a sniff, and it was their composure with and without the ball which allowed confidence to flow throughout the Italian side.
They will face sterner tests – particularly against teams who favour pace over canny operators – but for now, this double act is ageing like a fine wine.
It’s about time people stopped disrespecting Jorginho. He may not be best suited to Chelsea’s style of football, and he will always be remembered as Maurizio Sarri’s pet, but the midfielder is absolutely class.
He offered a tempo, a snap in the tackle and a constant alley to play into throughout the match, not allowing Turkey’s midfield a prayer. The Italian’s reading of the game was superb, intercepting any balls into Yilmaz and kickstarting another move forward.
Italy passed Turkey to death and eventually got their breakthrough, showing patience when it mattered most. Jorginho was at the heart of it all.
A shoutout is needed for Manuel Locatelli too, who slotted into the midfield with unerring ease, and also for Nicolo Barella, who is ready to show the world exactly what Serie A viewers already know: he’s one of the best in the business.
No matter how good a team is as a collective, they are always in need of a sprinkling of star quality. Insigne is that man for the Azzurri. The diminutive Napoli winger holds the key to Italy’s flair, shouldering the responsibility when a bit of magic is required.
His desire to float and drift about the pitch renders him impossible to mark, and with the aforementioned Spinazzola racing outside of him, you can never predict what he’ll do, or where the ball will end up next.
Insigne capped off his superb display with a great goal and clinical finish, completing the scoring and firing a warning shot to the other nations. Catch him if you can.
It’s not just the starters who are making the impact. Italy’s squad has serious depth, and Friday’s substitutes proved just that.
The first was introduced at half-time, when Alessandro Florenzi was replaced by Giovanni Di Lorenzo, and the SSC Napoli star changed the game with his injection of pace on the right flank.
Locatelli stepped into the midfield for the injured Marco Verratti, and the biggest compliment we can pay the Sassuolo star is that his superior’s absence was barely noticed.
Behind striker Ciro Immobile lies Andrea Belotti and Giacomo Raspadori, two forwards just dying to make an impact in this tournament. And don’t forget Federico Chiesa, who is arguably one of the most promising wingers in world football, and had to come off the bench himself on Friday.
This squad is stacked.