The rescheduled European football championships kick off in Rome on Friday in what the city’s mayor, Virginia Raggi, has billed as a symbol of a new beginning.
Andrea Bocelli will sing Nessun Dorma before the opening match between Italy and Turkey at the Olympic stadium, and a football village will open at Piazza del Popolo in the centre of Rome.
But even the most impassioned football fans are struggling to get into the mood. “The atmosphere is a little sad,” said Marco Martinelli, the owner of Osteria Mamma Mia, a small restaurant close to the stadium in the Flaminio area where AS Roma players have eaten. “You don’t have all the fervour that you would usually get before such a tournament … I don’t feel the excitement yet.”
Osteria Mamma Mia and other bars and restaurants in the area usually enjoy good custom before events at the stadium, but with spectator numbers limited to 25% of capacity, trade won’t be as brisk as it was in the past.
Martinelli will screen the Italy matches at the restaurant and said the mood would no doubt pick up if the national team, which last lifted a European cup trophy in 1968, performs well.
Rome will host two other Group A matches – Italy’s against Switzerland on 16 June and Wales on 20 June – along with a quarter-final game on 3 July.
To accommodate fans outside the stadium, there will be big screens set up in several locations in the city and Rome authorities have laid on a programme of events over the next month, including live music and shows tracing the history of Italy in the Euros.
The football village at Piazza del Popolo, said to be the largest fan zone in Europe, can host a maximum of 1,680 fans.
“I’ll watch the matches and obviously want to see Italy win, but everything still feels overshadowed by the pandemic,” said Alessio, a taxi driver, as he watched workers putting together the finishing touches to the football village on Thursday afternoon. “Few of us are living well at the moment.”
Others were in more buoyant spirits. “I can’t wait for the games to start,” said Mattia Simionatti, a tourist from Milan. Like other Italy fans, he was bitterly disappointed when the team failed to make it to World Cup in 2018, its first such failure since 1958. But he said the current squad, which includes key players such as Leonardo Bonucci and Nicolò Barella and is led by Roberto Mancini as coach, was vastly improved.
“The team this year is in really good shape and I really think we can reach the last four,” Simionatti said. “I do also see the tournament as a way to restart and get back to normal after more than a year of the pandemic, which we are all sick and tired of.”
Francesco Apa and his girlfriend, Arianna Miringi, were visiting Rome from Lake Orta, in the Piedmont region, where Apa plays for the local team, San Maurizio. “The atmosphere is totally different and the tournament won’t contribute to the economy as much as it was expected to before the pandemic, but I’m still really looking forward to the matches and will probably watch them in a bar,” Apa said.
Miringi was less enthusiastic: “I won’t have much choice but to go with him … and will obviously be rooting for Italy.”