Wales showed great determination in the loss to Italy as they clung to 10 men for a result enough to secure their place in the second round of Euro 2020.
Their automatic qualification was in jeopardy, with Switzerland beating Turkey 3-1 in the other Group A game, but Wales withstood relentless Italian pressure to climb to second on goal difference.
Italy had already qualified for the round of 16 and, despite eight changes in their squad, remained completely dominant, with Matteo Pessina’s goal giving them a 1-0 halftime lead that hardly reflected their superiority.
Wales were forced to play the final half hour to a man after Ethan Ampadu was sent off for a lunge on Federico Bernardeschi, stepping up the Italian assault.
And while Italy’s victory was never in doubt – it was their 30th game in a row unbeaten, tying their national record – Wales dug deep to make sure the winning margin didn’t is not too damaging.
Finishing third may have been enough for Wales to become one of the tournament’s top four third-placed teams, but this result kept their fate in their hands.
Robert Page and his players can now look forward to a second round match against the Group B finalists in Amsterdam next Saturday.
As for Italy, an 11th consecutive victory will see them face the second team in Group C at Wembley on the same day.
The nervous expectation of Wales
It turned into a much more anxious afternoon than Wales had envisioned in Rome.
Their victory over Turkey last Wednesday had placed them a touching distance from the round of 16, knowing that even a loss probably wouldn’t stop their progress – but needing a draw to be sure.
With their likely final 16 tie in mind, Page benched the three players – Kieffer Moore, Ben Davies and Chris Mepham – who were one yellow card away from suspension.
There was also a lineup change as Wales moved to a 3-4-3 where a fullback three became a fullback five during their long spells without possession against an impressive Italian side.
The Azzurri dominated from the kick-off, controlling the ball and locking Wales in their own half for what appeared to be the duration of the game.
Page’s side were living dangerously, with Italian shots deflecting wide or into the hands of Welsh goalkeeper Danny Ward, before their luck was finally exhausted when Pessina intervened on Marco Verratti’s free kick.
There were a myriad of other opportunities but, like a battered boxer threatening to deliver a decisive blow, Wales had their own opportunities with Chris Gunter stepping in and Gareth Bale emptying the bar with a left-footed volley.
Snatching a draw at the Stadio Olimpico would have been a heist of the first order, but those hiccups turned out to be academic thanks to Ward’s goalkeeper and the bloody defense of those in front of him.
Italy highlights its references in the tournament
A third win in three group matches underlined Italy’s credentials as potential Euro 2020 champions.
As four-time world champions and former winners of this competition, they are used to being among the favorites – but this team is different.
Italian football has traditionally been associated with defensive rigidity, a trick allied with the occasional cynicism to snatch narrow wins. Before this summer, they had never scored more than two goals in a single European Championship game.
At Euro 2020, however, they won their two opening matches 3-0 against Turkey and Switzerland, playing with new panache.
Coach Roberto Mancini made eight changes but, with some of them including Paris St-Germain midfielder Verratti and Italy’s top qualifying scorer Andrea Belotti, it was still a great lineup.
The fact that their goal came from a combination of two of their recalled players – Verratti assisting Pessina – illustrated Italy’s enviable strength at depth.
Such was the authority of their display, there was no doubt that they would take 11 straight wins – and there were rarely times when they looked like they had conceded a first goal in more than 1,000 minutes.
Luckily for Wales, however, Italy couldn’t extend their lead.
That loss in Rome will rank with the 2-0 defeat in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the night Wales qualified for Euro 2016 – as one of the best defeats in Welsh football history.
Match statistics – Ampadu’s record red card
- Aged 20 years and 279 days, Welshman Ethan Ampadu became the second youngest player to be sent off in a European Championship game after John Heitinga (20 years 217 days) for the Netherlands against the Czech Republic in 2004, while Ampadu is the youngest square showed a straight red.
- Italy are now unbeaten in 30 matches in all competitions (25 v., 5 n.) Since their loss to Portugal in September 2018, tying the longest unbeaten streak in their history, established between 1935 and 1939.
- Wales have lost six of their seven competitive matches against Italy (W1), including all five that took place outside Wales.
- Italy have kept their clean sheet in each of their last 11 matches in all competitions, having played only once longer in their history – 12 games without conceding a goal between 1972 and 1974.
- Wales have now reached the round of 16 in all three of their major tournament appearances – the 1958 World Cup, Euro 2016 and Euro 2020.
- Italy have kept their clean sheet in 22 of their 41 European Championship games (54%), three more than any other team (Germany, 18).
- Italy have made eight changes to their starting XI for this game, the most common between games in a major tournament.
- Italy’s Marco Verratti led all players in this game in hits (136), assists completed (103), chances created (five) and tackles (four), as well as assists.
- 21G DonnarummaReplaced bySiriguat 89 ‘minutes
- 19BonucciReplaced byAcerbiat 45 ‘minutes
- 12PessineBooked at 79 minutesReplaced byCastrovilliat 87 ‘minutes
- 8JorginhoReplaced byCristanteat 75 ‘minutes
- 20BernardeschiReplaced byRaspadoriat 75 ‘minutes
- 2Di Lorenzo
- 15AmpaduBooked at 55 minutes
- 2GunterBooked at 79 minutes
- 16MorrellReplaced byMooreat 60 ‘minutes
- 7AllenBooked at 51 minutesReplaced byLevittat 86 ‘minutes
- 3N williamsReplaced byDaviesat 86 ‘minutes
- 11BallReplaced bystreamsat 86 ‘minutes
- 20JamesReplaced byWilsonat 74 ‘minutes
- Ovidiu Hategan
- 11 541
The match ends, Italy 1, Wales 0.
Second Half ends, Italy 1, Wales 0.
Failed attempt. Bryan Cristante (Italy) right footed shot from outside the box misses the left. Assisted by Marco Verratti.
Substitution, Italy. Salvatore Sirigu replaces Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Attempt saved. Andrea Belotti (Italy) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Giacomo Raspadori.
Attempt blocked. Giacomo Raspadori (Italy) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Federico Chiesa.
Attempt blocked. Marco Verratti (Italy) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Rafael TolÃ³i.
Substitution, Italy. Gaetano Castrovilli replaces Matteo Pessina.
Substitution, Wales. Dylan Levitt replaces Joe Allen.
Substitution, Wales. Ben Davies replaces Neco Williams.
Substitution, Wales. David Brooks replaces Gareth Bale.
Coin, Italy. Licensed by Connor Roberts.
Attempt blocked. Federico Chiesa (Italy) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Matteo Pessina.
Coin, Italy. Licensed by Joe Allen.
Attempt blocked. Federico Chiesa (Italy) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Marco Verratti.
Free kick won Francesco Acerbi (Italy) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Kieffer Moore (Wales) fouls.
Offside, Italy. Federico Chiesa with a pass, however Matteo Pessina is caught offside.
Matteo Pessina (Italy) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Chris Gunter (Wales) is shown a yellow card for a bad play.