Italy topped Group A of Euro 2020 after a third straight win on Sunday, with a first-half goal from Matteo Pessina giving them a 1-0 victory over 10-man Wales, who also advance to the knockout stages of the competition.
The Italians had already guaranteed their progress, while Wales secured a berth too by finishing ahead of Switzerland on goal difference. The Swiss, who could still advance as one of the four best third-placed teams, beat Turkey 3-1 in Baku.
Roberto Mancini made eight changes to rest most of his first-choice starters, but Italy still dominated and missed several chances either side of Pessina's 42nd-minute goal, when he steered a low Marco Verratti free kick into the far corner.
Welsh centre back Ethan Ampadu was shown a straight red card in the 55th minute for stamping on Federico Bernadeschi's foot, and Wales then missed their best chance of an equaliser in the 74th when Gareth Bale volleyed over the bar from close range.
Italy will next face the runners-up of Group C, while Wales will take on the runners-up of Group B.
ITALY STARTING XI
The Azzurri make a full eight changes, with just goalkeeper Gigi Donnarumma, centre-back Leonardo Bonucci and central midfielder Jorginho remaining in the side.
Italy XI vs. Wales: Donnarumma; Tolói, Bonucci, Bastoni, Emerson; Jorginho, Pessina, Verratti; Bernardeschi, Chiesa, Belotti.
WALES STARTING XI
Rob Page has made his calls.
Wales XI - Ward; Ampadu, Rodon, Gunter; C Roberts, Morrell, Allen, N Williams; Bale, Ramsey, James
The stage is set at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome
Our Chief Football Writer Miguel Delaney is in place in Rome, ready to see how the Wales group stage adventure ends - and to keep a close eye on one of the favourite nations to win Euro 2020 outright.
What a stadium, what a venue, what an occasion. What a game to look forward to! It’s just 90 minutes away.
Mancini wants Italy’s 100 per cent record intact
There is no question of Italy slacking off in their final game, even though they have secured their spot in the last 16 already.
Boss Roberto Mancini might rotate his side to keep players involved and protect some of his starters, but regardless of who lines up he simply wants to play the Italy way, pick up the win and top the group - with suspicions of collusion with Wales to ensure they both progress in the top two given short shrift - and he doesn’t care which stadiums they play in.
“I think the term ‘Biscotto’ is used when there are two teams that have the same goal and the result would allow them to both go through. That’s not an issue for us because we already have six points and are already through to the last 16.
“So we either go to London or Amsterdam, it depends on the final score, and this ‘Biscotto’ chat doesn’t pertain to us.
“We will go wherever we need to in the draw. We’re not really bothered by which team we come against.
“If we go to Amsterdam because we finish runners-up so be it. If we win the group so much the better. Our target is to win the match.”
Third-place finish good enough?
All those last permutations are just to decide if Wales and Switzerland finish second or third of course, so both could still go through.
The four best third-place finishers from the six groups will proceed, and four points will surely be enough, whereas three almost certainly won’t be, especially with a negative goal difference.
We simply won’t know what’s the minimum requirement, nor who each third-place team will be, until the week goes on.
The 24-team tournament is split into six groups of four meaning the rules for progression into the knockout phase aren’t as simple as normal
Wales’ permutations to reach the last 16
Right, let’s clear this up: how do Wales progress?
If they win, they finish top. If they draw, they finish second. Those options are set in stone. If they lose, it’s a little more tricky...
A defeat is still good for second if Turkey beat Switzerland or if the two teams draw.
But if Switzerland beat Turkey then the Swiss and Welsh both finish on four points and head to head is used to separate the teams - which is of course also level as they drew 1-1.
After that, it’s their goal difference in the group overall which matters. There is currently a five-goal swing in Wales’ favour, so they can afford to lose 2-0, for example, if Switzerland only win by one or two goals.
If the Swiss win 3-0 and Wales lose 2-0 (4-1 and 3-1, etc), it’s onto goals scored. If they are still somehow level it’s wins - which would definitely be level, one apiece - and so it’s onto disciplinary points.
Right now, Wales have three yellows, Switzerland have four. All very tight, so it’s best Wales just beat Italy to be sure!
Azzurri forwards impress at Euro 2020
Let’s look at the Italy forward three for a moment: Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Domenico Berardi have starred at the Euros so far, with their movement and quick exchanges of passing leading to some of the most exciting and free-flowing moves on show.
They’ve also been creating and scoring goals - along with midfielder Manuel Locatelli - for fun as Italy hit six in their first two games.
Sassuolo star Berardi was a stand-out in the first game in Karl Matchett profiled the forward, who has been reportedly interesting several Premier League clubs after a brilliant season and, so far, a very impressive summer.
A second-half onslaught saw the Azzurri start with a win, with the Sassuolo forward central to much of their best work
Bale keen for Wembley date
Gareth Bale can’t be accused of not aiming high - he wants to beat Italy, top Group A and set up a Wembley clash for the Wales fans who have so far had to travel, or else watch from afar, to Baku. Today’s game is in Rome, rather closer to home, but he wants more.
“It would be a fantastic result for us if we were to beat Italy,” he said.
“Obviously we’d win the group and I guess have a slightly easier game going into the next round.
“For the Welsh fans to come and watch us is something we’d love to do. The aim for us is to win the group and then that game would be at Wembley, which would be great for Wales fans.”
Despite missing from 12 yards in the last game, Bale remains keen to stay on spot-kick duties for the Welsh and won’t hesitate to put his name forward next time.
“I’m happy to take penalties. I’m sure it’s a decision the manager has to make. If I’m asked to step up again I have no problem taking another penalty.”
Wales’ potential last-16 opponents
They are not quite there yet, but the odds are stacked heavily in Wales’ favour now.
So who might they play in the last 16? It’s far from clear cut at this stage because so many groups are still wide open, with Group A a fine example - will Switzerland seal third, or push Wales down? Will three points be enough, or is four to be the minimum requirement?
That said, Jack Rathborn has made a fine effort to lay out the land for Wales fans, depending on whether they finish first, second or third and make it through to the knock-out phase.
Group winners, runners-up and the four best third-place teams qualify for the round of 16
Impressive Italy put forward their case
Of all the pre-tournament favourites, it is unquestionably Italy who have impressed the most so far.
The Azzurri have won both games 3-0, their forwards have combined in excellent fashion, the midfield has been rock solid, brilliant in possession and contributing to goalscoring - and the defence has been typically Italian.
They are now unbeaten in 29 matches in all competitions since October 2018 and their last 10 games have yielded 10 victories and not a single goal conceded - an extraordinary run of form.
Changes might be forthcoming today as Mancini ponders rotating the line-up, ahead of the high-pressure, no-margin-for-error scenario of the knock-out stage.
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