Italy kept up their outstanding form as Roberto Mancini’s men made it three wins from as many games at Euro 2020 with a 1-0 victory over 10-man Wales.
With progression from Group A already assured, Mancini named a much-changed side in Rome, but the Azzurri’s squad depth was on show on Sunday.
Indeed, it was one of Italy’s new faces who got the winner – Matteo Pessina becoming the youngest Italian player to score on his first start at a major tournament since Antonio Cassano at Euro 2004. Pessina’s moment came with a neat flick in the 39th minute.
Wales’ comeback hopes appeared to have been dashed when Ethan Ampadu saw red, although Gareth Bale then missed a golden chance. Yet Italy sealed an 11th straight win and made it 30 games unbeaten in the process to match a long-standing national record.
One of eight Italy changes, Andrea Belotti went close to connecting with an acrobatic attempt early on, before the Torino striker flashed a low strike across goal in the 24th minute.
In search of his first Wales goal on his 102nd cap, Chris Gunter headed over from Daniel James’ corner, but Italy made the breakthrough six minutes before half-time.
Joe Allen fouled Marco Verratti out on the right, with the Paris Saint-Germain playmaker floating in a cross which was met by Pessina, whose deft flick found the bottom-left corner.
Wales had a let-off after the break – Federico Bernardeschi hitting the base of the left-hand post with a long-range free-kick.
A mistake from Francesco Acerbi gave Aaron Ramsey a chance, but he failed to get a shot off, and Wales were soon down to 10 when Ampadu caught Bernardeschi late and received a rather harsh straight red.
Danny Ward made a brilliant save to deny Belotti, and Bale should have made Italy pay for their profligacy, but he lashed over on the volley with only Gianluigi Donnarumma to beat.
Ward’s save counted in the end, however, with Wales securing second place in the group thanks to a better goal difference than Switzerland, who beat Turkey in Baku.
What does it mean? Impressive Italy march on
Mancini’s team’s tally of seven goals is their best tally in a major tournament group stage since the 1998 World Cup (also seven goals).
Italy have now won their last 11 games, scoring 32 goals without conceding in this run – in fact, Donnarumma, who was replaced late on to give Salvatore Sirigu a few minutes of action, is the youngest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in three consecutive games at the Euros (22 years and 115 days).
In short, Mancini’s men – on an unbeaten streak which matches the record set by Vittorio Pozzo’s Italy team in the 1930s – look well placed to mount a serious challenge and more than make up for missing out on the 2018 World Cup. Wales, meanwhile, can congratulate themselves on a job well done in the group stage, with their target of a last-16 place achieved.
Verratti back with a bang
Having not featured in either of Italy’s opening matches, Verratti came back into the starting XI and turned in an exceptional display in the heart of midfield.
Nobody created more chances (five), played more successful passes (103 out of 110), had more touches (136) or gained possession (seven) more times than the PSG man, who warmed up nicely ahead of what could well go on to be a starring role at the tournament.
Ampadu’s opportunity turns sour
Ampadu came off the Wales bench in the first two group matches but was handed a start at Stadio Olimpico.
However, his game was cut short after 55 minutes, as the Chelsea defender became the youngest player in European Championship history to be shown a straight red card, aged 20 years and 279 days.
– Italy have won 25 and drawn five of their 30 games since losing to Portugal in September 2018.
– Wales have lost six of their seven competitive matches against Italy (W1), including all five that took place outside Wales.
– Italy have kept a clean sheet in each of their last 11 matches in all competitions, only going on a longer run once before in their history – 12 games without conceding between 1972 and 1974.
– Despite losing this game, Wales have now reached the knockout stages in all three of their appearances at major tournaments (1958 World Cup, Euro 2016 and Euro 2020).
– Ampadu became the youngest player to be shown a straight red in a European Championship game, but there is one younger player to have been sent off in such a match: John Heitinga (20 years 217 days) for the Netherlands against the Czech Republic in 2004, for two bookable offences.
Having won the group, Italy will travel to London next, with their last-16 tie taking place at Wembley on Saturday. They will face whichever nation finishes second in Group C (either Ukraine or Austria).
Wales will play in Amsterdam, against one of Belgium, Russia, Finland or even Denmark.
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