A year late, Italy and Turkey play opening game at Euro 2020

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Italy's Ciro Immobile, right, is challenged by Czech Republic's David Zima during the international friendly soccer match between Italy and Czech Republic in Bologna, Italy, Friday, June 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

ROME – 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 on Friday 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. “Soccer with fans inside the stadium is a different sport.”

After embarrassingly failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy won all 10 of its qualifying matches for Euro 2020 and enters 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 its matches to finish second in its group.

“Being in this tournament and playing in the opening match makes us proud,” Turkey coach Şenol Güneş said. “In every opening game there are surprises and I hope we can also spring one.”