Classic match: Italy vs. Turkey – Euro 2000

The year 2000, the start of the millennium. Mobile phones were just used for calls and SMS. Local currencies were still used, as there were two more years to go before the Euro. The year 2000 was actually like a bridge from the late ’90s to the new world.     

In football terms, Euro 2000 was the first tournament of that new era. There was co-hosting duties between Holland and Belgium, where 16 teams participated, and E-type’s Campione was the official song. Italy topped their qualifying group with only one point of difference ahead of Denmark and Switzerland. Dino Zoff’s squad included players both from 90s Azzurri and new names who would play their first international tournament, such as Francesco Totti, Gianluca Zambrotta, Stefano Fiore, Marco Delvecchio and Vincenzo Montella.

Gianluigi Buffon’s injury ruled him out of the competition, but Francesco Toldo would make his mark in the next three weeks. Italy were in Group B, alongside Belgium, Sweden and Turkey. Just like Italy, other three teams had their own stories too.     

Among these teams, Belgium and Sweden had made their marks in the early ’90s. Although they didn’t have their best players from the 90s, (such as Michel Preud’homme, Enzo Scifo, Tomas Brolin, Martin Dahlin) both teams had decent squads. Alongside their experienced players, young talents Emile Mpenza and Fredrik Ljungberg were two of the prominent names of these two teams. It could be predicted that Belgium as the hosts or Larsson-Ljungberg inspired Sweden could qualify to quarter finals.

Francesco Totti against Turkey

Turkey got four points from leaders Germany in the qualifying stage, and beat Mick McCarthy’s Ireland in the play-offs. Qualifying for Euro 2000 was a big achievement for Turkish football, but their best moment came when Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup. The final was just three weeks before the tournament, and nine UEFA Cup winning players were selected for the national team. Manager Mustafa Denizli, who was one of the pioneers of Turkish football’s rise, had reached to semi-final in European Cup (1989) and quarter final in Cup Winners Cup (1992) at Galatasaray earlier in his career.   

The opening match of Euro 2000 was played between Belgium and Sweden on 10 June in Brussels. The next day, it was Italy and Turkey’s turn. Although it was their first match in an international tournament, at club level Italian and Turkish teams squared off in a number of encounters over the last couple of years. Milan and Juventus played formidable Champions League matches against Galatasaray; Parma’s only defeat was against Fenerbahçe in their UEFA Cup winning season (1998-99), and Perugia lost to Trabzonspor in Intertoto Cup a year earlier. Just like these matches, Turkey would be equally tough for Italy.

The match started rapidly, as both team created chances due to open spaces in the midfield. Turkey played with long balls, while Italy used their right hand side to find the first certain chance of the game. Pippo Inzaghi, Antonio Conte and Fiore all found space in the same area, but centre backs Alpay Ozalan and Ogun Temizkanoglu didn’t leave space in the box.

In 17th minute, Turkey were close to scoring, when Sergen Yalcin’s shot from outside the box just gone by near the post. Despite the rapid start, the remaining minutes of the first half petered out, as both teams struggled to have possession or move the ball around quickly. The first half ended 0-0, but the second half would be more memorable.

Turkey started the second half with more possession and a bigger attacking threat. They were close to creating some chances, but Italy’s defensive line (containing Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta) played very compact and they helped the game remain goalless.

Antonio Conte celebrates scoring against Turkey

Manager Mustafa Denizli was thinking for a substitution, as Tugay was ready to be introduced. Turkey were gathering momentum and Tugay brought more energy and talent in midfield. While Turkey were playing like this, Italy needed a quick game plan. The offside in 51st minute and the short stop in the game would help Italy more than they expected. A long pass from Nesta found Inzaghi, he passed to Fiore before running through the box and Fiore passed to Inzaghi who had the angle to shoot. Inzaghi was close to scoring, but Alpay was there to clear the ball. However, it found Conte and his bicycle-kick gave Italy the 1-0 lead. After seven minutes of struggle in the second half, Italy took the lead in an unexpected moment through an unexpected player.       

Conte’s goal didn’t give only the lead, but also the momentum for Italy. Totti and Inzaghi found chances to make it 2-0, but the post and Ogün’s timing kept the score 1-0. Turkey were awarded a free-kick on the right hand side. It wasn’t an angle to score directly, but Yalcin was there to take the free-kick. He thought about the other method for the goal. Okan Buruk was unmarked and Toldo’s angle wasn’t easy to save the ball. Yalcin sent the ball to Buruk with a perfect cross at a perfect time. Okan’s header levelled the score, and it was now 1-1.     

It wasn’t easy to find open spaces with short passes for both sides, as Maldini and Ozalan showed their skills throughout the match. But there were still 30 minutes to go in the second half. It was 70th minute which would define the remaining part of the match. It was a shoulder to shoulder scrimmage for Ogün, but for the Scottish referee Hugh Dallas, there was an elbow against Inzaghi. Italy were awarded a penalty. Rustu Recber predicted the side, he was close to save it, but Inzaghi made it 2-1.

In the 75th minute, Dino Zoff introduced Alessandro Del Piero and substituted Fiore. Del Piero was close to making a perfect start to Euro 2000, as his first touch was almost a goal. Del Piero’s free-kick hit the post. Italy went close to making it 3-1 with Del Piero’s energy. Angelo Di Livio, who was introduced in 83rd minute, thought he scored to make it 3-1 in the last minute of the match, but it was disallowed. A few seconds later, after a quick passing to the box, Turkey got the last chance to level the score. It was the last part of the stoppage time, a goal would clinch a draw, but Toldo’s save prevented a last second drama, (he wishes he had done the same in the final.) Despite the chances in the last 15 minutes, a controversial penalty decision gave Italy the decisive lead and they won the match 2-1.

Although Turkey lost their first match at Euro 2000, it was a successful tournament for them. The 0-0 draw against Sweden kept the hopes alive before the third match. Turkey needed to win, while a draw would be sufficient for Belgium to qualify to quarter finals. However, the 2-0 win in Brussels saw Turkey play against Portugal in the quarter final. On the other hand, Italy topped the group stage with nine points. In the knockout stages, they beat Romania and Holland, and they were only seconds away from winning the final. We all know what happened next.

It was 11 June when Italy and Turkey played at Euro 2000. Two of the players from that match, Antonio Conte and Sergen Yalçın, have just won league titles as managers at Inter and Besiktas this season. 21 years after their Euro 2000 encounter, Italy and Turkey will be play the opening match of Euro 2020 in Rome. With a coincidence, it will again be on June 11.

Words by: Onur Bilgic