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ROME, ITALY – JUNE 20: Andrea Belotti of Italy in action during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group A match between Italy and Wales at Olimpico Stadium on June 20, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo : Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Italy maintained their unbeaten record in the Euro 2020 tournament as they defeated Wales, 1-0, in their final group game at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday. Matteo Pessina scored the match-winner for the Italians, who finish top of Group C with nine points out of a possible nine.
With Italy already securing a ticket to the last 16 before this match, manager Roberto Mancini decided to rotate his squad for the group finale, making eight changes to his side.
Italy, however, still had a strong starting lineup, with Paris St-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti and Italy’s goal-scoring leader in qualifying Andrea Belotti lining up against Wales.
Pessina, the hero for Italy
It was Pessina, however, who made the crucial contribution, scoring the lone goal in the 39th minute. He connected with Marco Verratti’s free-kick with a side-footed strike which took the ball beyond Danny Ward’s dive attempt to give Italy a 1-0 lead.
That result stood as the Italians extended their unbeaten record on the international stage to 30 matches, equaling their national record set between 1935 and 1939. Powering their run has been their stingy defense as their clean sheet streak has now passed the 1,000-minute mark.
The Italians have now kept a clean sheet in each of their past 11 games in all competitions. As Group A winners, they are now set to face Group C’s second-placed team at the Wembley Stadium this coming Saturday.
It was a joyous occasion for both teams, however, as Wales joined Italy in the last 16, even in defeat. Wales entered this clash in good shape after beating Turkey in their last group game. The Welshmen knew that even a loss against Italy was unlikely to halt their progress to the knockout stages but needed a draw to be sure of their last 16 spot.
Given this favorable scenario, manager Robert Page decided to tinker with his squad, benching three players who were one yellow card away from suspension, namely: Kieffer Moore, Ben Davies, and Chris Mepham.
That move almost back-fired as Italy dominated right from kick-off. That onslaught intensified in the final half-hour after Ethan Ampadu was sent off in the 55th minute for a lunge on Federico Bernardeschi. Aged 20 years and 279 days, Ampadu became the youngest player in the history of the European Championships to be shown a straight red card.
Related Article: Euro 2020 Day 8 Results: England, Scotland produce goalless draw
Wales qualify, Switzerland keeps hopes alive
Already trailing 1-0 at that point, a heavy defeat was suddenly in place, putting Wales’ qualification in jeopardy. They managed to hold on, though, to reach the knockout stages in a major tournament for the third time in their history.
Switzerland made Wales sweat for their last 16 spot after beating Turkey 3-1 in the other Group A match. Xherdan Shaqiri and Haris Seferovic were the goal-scorers for the Swiss, who gave themselves a terrific chance of qualifying for the round of 16 of Euro 2020 as one of the best third-placed sides in the tournament.
Steven Zuber delivered all three assists for Switzerland, who must now wait for the group matches to be completed to see if their efforts will be enough to send them through to the knockout stages. Switzerland has four points with a minus-one goal difference.
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