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DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Wales qualify for EURO 2020 last 16

 

Wales have qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2020 despite losing 1-0 to Italy in Rome.

Matteo Pessina scored the 39th-minute winner as Italy topped Group A with a 100 per cent record and equalled their national record of 30 games unbeaten.

Wales were forced to play the last 35 minutes with 10 men after Ethan Ampadu was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Federico Bernardeschi.

Switzerland had Welsh hearts racing by establishing a 2-0 interval lead against Turkey in Baku and trimming Wales’ goal difference advantage.

The Swiss eventually won in 3-1, but it was not enough to leapfrog Wales and their qualification hopes now reside on being one of the four best third-placed sides.

Wales instead will head to Amsterdam to play the runners-up of Group B, most likely Denmark, Finland or Russia.

The prize at stake was a last-16 tie at Wembley with Austria or Ukraine the probable opponents.

Italy had established themselves as one of the tournament favourites by overwhelming Turkey and Switzerland, two 3-0 wins making it 10 successive victories by the margin of 31-0.

Manager Roberto Mancini had promised changes with qualification for the knockout stage already secured and made eight in the event.

Leonardo Bonucci took over the captaincy from the injured Giorgio Chiellini and Marco Verratti made his first appearance of the tournament after injury.

Wales also altered a winning line-up with boss Robert Page concerned over potential suspensions moving forward.

Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore were carrying yellow cards and the trio were replaced by Ampadu, Chris Gunter – winning cap number 102 – and Neco Williams.

The absence of target man Moore meant Wales played Aaron Ramsey, the Juventus midfielder back on Italian soil, as a ‘false nine’ with Gareth Bale and Daniel James either side of him.

There were only around 400 Wales supporters present in a Stadio Olimpico crowd of around 14,000 amid tight coronavirus restrictions.

But the travelling fans made themselves heard as the action got underway and Italy set up camp in the Wales half.

Emerson Palmieri forced a first save from Danny Ward and the Leicester goalkeeper was grateful that Rafael Toloi’s shot flew off Pessina and straight at him.

Verratti was prompting most home attacks with delightful precision, but Italy were let down by careless finishing as Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa dragged efforts wide.

Wales did break the stranglehold briefly when Gunter, who has never scored in his long international career, headed Ramsey’s corner just over the crossbar.

But Italy’s superiority was rewarded after Verratti had been bundled over by Joe Allen.

Verratti sent in a low free-kick which Pessina met superbly on the volley to direct the ball past the helpless Ward.

Bernadeschi almost doubled Italy’s lead soon after the restart as his 25-yard free-kick struck a post.

Wales’ task got a lot tougher 10 minutes into the second period when Ampadu brought his boot down on Bernadeschi’s foot and Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan had no hesitation producing his red card.

Ward saved superbly from Belotti and Bryan Cristante before Bale missed Wales’ best opening 15 minutes from time.

Joe Rodon directed a free-kick onto Bale’s favourite left foot, but the Real Madrid forward snatched at the opportunity and skied the ball over.

It was not to prove costly, though, as Wales held on and maintained their record of reaching the knockout stage of every major tournament they have competed in.


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