Following a year-long delay, the much-anticipated Euro 2020 finals get underway on Friday, as form side Italy host fast-improving Turkey at the iconic Stadio Olimpico.
While the Azzurri seek to make the most of home advantage in Rome, their Turkish counterparts are aiming to at least avoid defeat in their opening match of the competition at the fifth time of asking.
Incorporating talented youngsters such as in-demand goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, flying winger Federico Chiesa, plus Scudetto-winning Inter pair Nicolo Barella and Alessandro Bastoni into a well-rounded selection with few obvious flaws, the former Manchester City manager was the recent recipient of a new contract that runs until after the 2026 World Cup.
Under his guidance, Italy have eased to qualification for both the Euros and the semi-finals of the Nations League, while posting three wins from as many fixtures so far on the road to Qatar 2022 – meanwhile extending their unbeaten home record in World Cup qualifiers to a staggering 56 games.
In all, Turkey have proven exceptionally hard to get the better of in recent times, losing on only three occasions in their 26 matches since Gunes stepped back into one of the hottest of hotseats.
Not only were competition favourites France unable to beat them home or away, but they were more recently 4-2 winners against the Netherlands in Qatar 2022 qualifying, as veteran striker Burak Yilmaz – a Ligue 1 champion with Lille – bagged a hat-trick and elusive playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu also found the target.
Turkey form (all competitions):
W W D W D W
Italy form (all competitions):
W W W W W W
Turkey possible starting lineup: Cakir; Celik, Demiral, Soyuncu, Meras; Yokuslu; Calhanoglu, Tufan, Under; Yazici; Yilmaz
Italy possible starting lineup: Donnarumma; Florenzi, Bonucci, Chiellini, Spinazzola; Barella, Jorginho, Locatelli; Berardi, Immobile, Insigne
As both nations have enjoyed a renaissance of late, two well-organised teams are likely to play out a closely-fought but technically adept affair.
With either side perhaps seeing the other as their main group rivals, it could be that one goal will decide the outcome – particularly as there will be a significant amount of defensive nous on show.