Turkey, Switzerland and Wales: Italy’s opponents in the first phase

Space and time will be Italy’s extra allies, the only one of the four teams in Group A that will not have to go back and forth in the first phase of the European Championships between Rome and Baku: 3151 kilometers away from each other as the crow flies and with the long flight (over five hours) which will also be weighed down by the danger of jet lag: for the “+2” time zone in the capital of Azerbaijan, which will be the easternmost cardinal point of the continental event, for the first time in an itinerant version. Turkey, Switzerland and Wales will therefore be forced to deal with a much more complicated “logistics” compared to the Azzurri: both for the organization of travel and for the not simple approach to the matches, which in case of errors risks to reserve some nasty surprises.

Chelsea and Arsenal know something about it, who two years ago competed for the Europa League in the slightly baroque setting of the Olympic Stadium in Baku. Sarri and his staff ordered the “Blues” not to care about the time zone and upon landing they left the hands pointing to the exact time in London: waking up during their stay in Azerbaijgian at 10 (local time), having breakfast at noon, having lunch in the afternoon and meeting at the table for dinner only late at night. The “Gunners”, on the other hand, chose the opposite path – rigorously moving the clocks forward by 120 minutes – and coincidentally it was the only UEL final lost in his career as a “King of Cups” by Unai Emery, who saw the his players during the recovery, also dazed by the stress of jet lag.

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The unknown temporal space will weigh only marginally on Turkey, which after the debut against Italy in Rome will be able to move to Azerbaijan on a permanent basis for the last two games of group A: moreover, getting closer to home. The alternation between the two venues will instead be more complicated to manage for Wales and especially Switzerland, which on June 12 will start their European Championship at the Olympic stadium in Baku: 69870 seats, however reduced by fifty percent due to the emergency Covid. But the full house would still have been very unlikely, at those latitudes. In 2019, in fact, a lot of figurines were hired – equipped with flags, trumpets and drums – to barely fill the unadorned stands, on the occasion of the Europa League final. The journey is in fact long, expensive and tiring: but less so for the fans who will come from the nearest Istanbul. We can therefore imagine that Senol Gunes’ team will play – in essence – almost at home.

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The technical values, on the other hand, seem a little more balanced on paper. Turkey qualified in their group from second behind France, beating them in the direct match at home and also coming out undefeated from Paris. Much will depend on the streak of the team’s striker, Burak Ylmaz, 35, fresh from his sensational and surprising triumph in the French Ligue 1 with Lille. Three players who come from Serie A: Calhanoglu (contract expiring at Milan), Demiral and Muldur, plus the former Roma forward, Cengiz Under. In the Switzerland of Vlado Petkovic, another old Roman acquaintance from his past on the Lazio bench, spotlight on striker Seferovic: 16 goals this season with Benfica. But the lead man of the Swiss will be Granit Xhaka, the Arsenal midfielder Mourinho likes. Bottom-up construction ensured, thanks to the well-mannered feet of the Sommer goalkeeper. Finally, Wales was a step lower, but was semifinalist in the last edition of the European Championships and dreams of repeating itself. All around Gareth Bale, the lighthouse of the 4-3-3 that coach Robert Page inherited from Ryan Giggs in extremis: relieved at the end of April after a complaint for domestic violence. Among the “Dragons” Aaron Ramsey was especially noted, returning from a very disappointing year with Juventus. He will return to Italy to challenge the Azzurri at the Olimpico on 20 June: probably for the last time.

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