NESSUN Dorma. A world-renowned opera singer. Rome. If that doesn’t get you in the mood, nothing will.

As Andrea Bocelli bellowed out Puccini’s majestic aria in the Eternal City, it was impossible to avoid the romance it inspires within. As the crescendo swelled, so too did our hope: hope that the horror of the last 18 months could be drawing tentatively to a close; hope that maybe, just maybe, our own country could do the unthinkable and go all the way.

The music stirred the soul as fireworks were lit all around the Stadio Olimpico; an explosion of light and sound that smothered the senses. In the middle of the pitch, a lone, graceful dancer elegantly twirled this way and that as she dangled from balloons with the flags of all 24 nations bound together.

It was always going to be a hard act to follow and the Italian and Turkish players trotted out onto the park moments later to do just that. Passionate renditions of the national anthems rang around the grand old arena – wasn’t the sight of supporters in stands, half-full as they were, just wonderful? – before any lingering sense of reverence was abruptly dashed as a tiny remote control Volkswagen car delivered the ball to the centre circle.

Given this was a contest between two rejuvenated national teams with a point to prove, it was fitting that the host city was home to the great gladiatorial bouts of antiquity. The 22 players represented a new beginning for their respective nations: draped in that famous deep red there were Senol Gunes’ young Turks with the lowest average age in the whole tournament; and in white, Roberto Mancini’s Italy, seemingly released from the shackles of their past and enjoying a new lease of life as a continental juggernaut after so many years mired in mediocrity.

There was a slight sense of novelty about the whole occasion – a five-year wait between two European Championships can encourage such a feeling – but there were old faces there to greet us too.

After 18 months of the coronavirus pandemic accelerating growing global turmoil in an already restless world, there is something oddly comforting in the realisation that Italy have persevered with a centre-back pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci for over a decade. Another crumb of comfort was dished out with the presence of Burak Yilmaz, a man seemingly contractually obliged to appear at every major tournament since 1990.

Many would have expected to find more solace once the game got under way by watching a dogged Italy grind out a win over the plucky Turks. It will have been jarring, then, to discover that this current iteration of the Azzurri are quite the opposite.

White shirts flooded the Turkish half during the opening 45 minutes as they probed for a way through the compact resistance that met them. The game felt like it was played entirely on the edge of the visitors’ box as their hosts camped 30 yards from goal, embarking on the occasional reconnaissance mission beyond their opponents’ backline.

It was Italy’s golden oldies at the back, Chiellini and Bonucci, that were providing Gunes with the greatest headache. They drifted forward regularly, effectively giving their side an extra man in attack and sowing uncertainty in the Turkish ranks. The former even came closest to breaking the deadlock after clever movement helped him lose his marker at a set-piece, only for his bulleted header to be tipped narrowly over the bar by Ugurcan Cakir.

The pressure built after the restart until Turkey’s defence was inevitably breached. Having spent most of the game squeezed back deep in their own half, they struggled to build out from the back as they were subjected to wave after wave of Italian attack. There was a slice of misfortune about the way that Umut Meras slipped to allow Domenico Berardi a sight of goal but the Sassuolo forward made his own luck thereafter as he rifled the ball across the face of goal, defecting off the chest of the helpless Merih Demiral and into the back of the net.

If the writing was on the wall at that point, it was chiselled on within minutes as Ciro Immobile reacted quickly to steer the ball home for 2-0 before Lorenzo Insigne added a composed third by sweeping home a late counter-attack.