Euro 2020 kicks off one year late
Somehow it seems appropriate that Italy, the first country in Europe that was overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, is hosting the opening game of the European Championship.
Even if Euro 2020 is kicking off in 2021.
The biggest crowd to gather in Italy for a year and a half will witness an Azzurri squad aiming for the title play a Turkey team aiming to spring a surprise today at Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
"We've been waiting a year for this European Championship and we can't wait to experience hearing 15,000 people singing the national anthem," veteran Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci said. "Football with fans inside the stadium is a different sport."
After embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy won all 10 of their qualifying matches for Euro 2020 and enter on a 27-match unbeaten run.
"We want to go all the way," Bonucci said. "Other national teams have more experience but we can play with anyone. We don't have a (Romelu) Lukaku or a Cristiano Ronaldo. Our strength is the team."
Turkey took four points off France in qualifying, including a 2-0 win over the World Cup champions, and lost only one of their matches to finish second in its group.
"Being in this tournament and playing in the opening match makes us proud," Turkey coach Senol Gunes said. "In every opening game there are surprises and I hope we can also spring one."
Wales and Switzerland, the other two teams in Group A, meet in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Saturday.
This year's tournament is being played in 11 cities scattered across the European continent.
The Italian government decided that the Stadio Olimpico can be filled to 25 per cent capacity for the four games it will host.
That amounts to a maximum of 15,948 spectators.
Ticket-holders need to show one of three documents to enter the Stadio Olimpico: either a certificate from Italian health authorities showing they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, another document from Italian health authorities showing they have recovered from the coronavirus within six months, or a negative test result issued within 48 hours of kick-off.