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Debut at 26: Italy newcomer Folorunsho grateful to be at Euro 2024

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Debut at 26: Italy newcomer Folorunsho grateful to be at Euro 2024
Sport

Sport

Debut at 26: Italy newcomer Folorunsho grateful to be at Euro 2024

2024-06-20 01:36 Last Updated At:01:40

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) — Late bloomer Michael Folorunsho hadn’t even played in Italy’s top division this time last year. Now he’s representing Italy at the European Championship.

The 26-year-old Folorunsho made his tournament debut Saturday as a stoppage-time substitute in Italy’s opening 2-1 win over Albania.

It's a dream turned reality for the player who only made his Serie A debut last August.

“I think it was inconceivable 12 months ago,” Folorunsho said Wednesday. “I don’t think I could have ever imagined that a year on, I’d be playing at the European Championship.”

Folorunsho, an attack-minded midfielder, scored five goals for Hella Verona last season after joining the team on loan from Napoli. He played more league games, 34, than any other outfield player on the team.

Physically strong, combative and versatile, Folorunsho has a powerful strike and is good in the air, too.

“I never stopped dreaming. But that now drives me forward because once you get to a certain level, that’s when the going gets really tough. You have to work even harder to make sure you stay there,” said Folorunsho, who spent previous loan spells at Serie B teams Bari, Reggina and Pordenone. Bari was in Serie C when Napoli initially sent him there in 2019.

Folorunsho was speaking beside Italy coach Luciano Spalletti before the team’s Euro 2024 clash with Spain in Gelsenkirchen on Thursday. Spalletti was familiar with Folorunsho from their time together at Napoli and it was Spalletti who called him to the Italy squad for the first time in March, though the player had to wait until June before making his debut in a friendly win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Though born in Rome, Folorunsho could also have played for Nigeria. He was reportedly overlooked by then-Nigeria coach José Peseiro for his Africa Cup of Nations squad.

Folorunsho said he’d be willing to play in goal if it meant helping Italy, the defending champion, win the European Championship again.

As for his relatively late ascent to Italy’s top division and international soccer, Folorunsho said he felt it was “only right” that he had made it at 26.

“Every footballer has their own path. I’ve had my own route in the game and I wouldn’t swap it with anyone’s. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved,” Folorunsho said. “A number of people thought that I wasn’t ready. I accepted their decision and I got my head down and kept grafting to make it here today. I feel ready now. I feel ready to embark on challenges which appeared too great for me in the past. So, I’d like to dedicate this to my mum and my family because they’ve always supported me.”

Italy's Michael Folorunsho walks on the pitch at the end of a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Italy's Michael Folorunsho walks on the pitch at the end of a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

CABOT, Pa. (AP) — A fire truck carried Corey Comperatore’s flag-draped casket to a Pennsylvania church on Friday for the funeral of the former fire chief, who was shot and killed when a gunman tried to assassinate former President Donald Trump last weekend.

Hundreds of firefighters arrived at the church in a procession of over 100 trucks in a show of support for Comperatore's grieving relatives and friends. Outside the church, a massive American flag hung from the ladder of a fire truck.

A sharpshooter team mounted on a nearby rooftop served as a reminder of last weekend's bloodshed. Officials have said that Comperatore spent his final moments shielding his wife and daughter from gunfire at Trump’s rally last Saturday in Butler, Pennsylvania.

Trump, who suffered an ear injury in the shooting but was not seriously hurt, is not going to the funeral because of Secret Service concerns, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Annette Locke, a member of the West Deer Township Volunteer Fire Department, stood across the road from the church and lightly touched her heart as she spoke about the horrific toll from the “totally senseless" shooting.

“He was with his family on a beautiful sunny day, and now he’s gone,” Locke said.

Joe and Jen Brose stood at the edge of their driveway with their three young boys, all dressed in T-shirts celebrating the USA, watching the long procession of fire and emergency trucks go by.

“The community comes together at times like this,” Joe Brose said.

“I thought it was very heartwarming, it was very humbling to see it,” said Jen Brose, whose sister had attended the Trump rally.

Trump honored Comperatore during his speech Thursday night at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. He displayed Comperatore's firefighting gear on the convention stage, kissing his helmet and heralding the ex-chief as “an unbelievable person.”

Comperatore, 50, worked as a project and tooling engineer, was an Army reservist and spent many years as a volunteer firefighter after serving as chief, according to his obituary.

On Thursday, thousands of mourners filed into a banquet hall to pay their respects to Comperatore and his family. Hundreds of people gathered Wednesday at a vigil for him at an auto racing track.

Guests at Thursday's visitation for Comperatore saw a slideshow of photos from his life — his wedding, a recent 50th birthday party, time with his daughters, firefighting, fishing, and palling around with his Dobermans. Also on display was a framed copy of a note to Comperatore’s wife signed by Trump and former first lady Melania Trump.

"Corey will forever be remembered as a True American Hero,” the Trumps wrote.

A statement issued Thursday by Comperatore's family described him as a “beloved father and husband, and a friend to so many throughout the Butler region.”

"Our family is finding comfort and peace through the heartfelt messages of encouragement from people around the world, through the support of our church and community, and most of all through the strength of God," the statement said.

Two other people were wounded at Trump's rally: David Dutch, 57, of New Kensington, and James Copenhaver, 74, of Moon Township. As of Wednesday night, both had been upgraded to serious but stable condition, according to a spokesperson with Allegheny Health Network.

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Merri Cambo, left, of Saxonburg, Pa., and her friend, Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., react as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes by, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Merri Cambo, left, of Saxonburg, Pa., and her friend, Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., react as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes by, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A flag is seen before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A flag is seen before the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

People wait for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

People wait for the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., waves a flag as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jane Wesolosky, of Buffalo, Pa., waves a flag as the funeral procession for Corey Comperatore passes, Friday, July 19, 2024, in Sarver, Pa. Comperatore, a former fire chief, was shot and killed while attending a weekend rally for former President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A giant American flag is unfurled outside the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction." (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A giant American flag is unfurled outside the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction." (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pennsylvania State Police arrive at the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction.". (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Pennsylvania State Police arrive at the Cabot Church, in Cabot, Pa., Friday, July 19, 2024, before the funeral service for Buffalo Township Volunteer fireman Corey Comeratore, who was killed at a Pennsylvania rally for Donald Trump, Saturday, July 13, 2024. Corey Comperatore's quick decision to use his body as a shield against the bullets flying toward his wife and daughter rang true to the close friends and neighbors who loved and respected the proud 50-year-old Trump supporter, noting that the Butler County resident was a "man of conviction.". (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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