Goal difference proved crucial as Wales narrowly secured a spot in the Last 16 of Euro 2020 at Switzerland’s potential expense despite losing to Italy in Rome.
Wales made three changes for their final Euro 2020 group game against Italy at Romes Stadio Olimpico. Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore, who were all carrying yellow cards, dropped to the bench and were replaced by Chris Gunter, Ethan Ampadu and Neco Williams.
Group A leaders Italy had already qualified for the last 16 and made eight changes as only goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, defender Leonardo Bonucci and midfielder Jorginho survived from the side that had beaten Switzerland 3-0.
Wales were handed an early blow, though not from events on the pitch in Rome.
Switzerland took an early lead in the corresponding group clash with Turkey. Although early, it ramped up the pressure on the Welsh to secure a positive result and avoid an agonising wait to see whether third place in the group would be good enough.
Despite the abundance of changes in Roberto Mancini’s side, their forward line still looked capable of scoring at will. Federico Bernardeschi sprang Andrea Belotti in behind, but the forward pulled his effort narrowly wide from a superb position.
Wales threatened from a corner after Chris Gunter broke free of his marker. The defender met Daniel James’ delivery sweetly but saw his effort land on the roof of the net.
A careless free-kick conceded by Joe Allen would then prove costly six minutes before half time. Marco Verratti dusted himself down to take the set piece, and delivered an inch-perfect pass for Matteo Pessina to glance home after ghosting in unmarked at the near post.
The duo nearly combined once more to double their advantage moments later. Half time couldn’t come soon enough for the visitors.
The interval did little to temper the rampant Italians. Brimming with confidence, Bernadeschi tried his luck from fully 30 yards with a free-kick and was denied solely by the post.
Aaron Ramsey saw a glorious opportunity to level the scores go begging after uncharacteristically dawdling in possession at the critical moment.
Wales’ hopes of launching a comeback were then dealt a bitter blow when Ethan Ampadu saw red. The Chelsea man went in late on Bernadeschi, catching the forward above his foot with his studs in a challenge deemed worthy of dismissal.
With Switzerland now leading Turkey 2-1 in the other fixture, goal difference was becoming increasingly crucial.
Danny Ward played his part in maintaining Wales’ advantage over the Swiss on that front, pulling off a smart save with his knee to deny Belotti.
Gareth Bale had endured a quiet evening until the 75th minute. Remarkably left free in the area from a free-kick, Bale lost his composure at the critical moment when blazing a knockdown high over the bar.
Mancini did his part to keep squad spirits high when surprisingly making a goalkeeping substitution in the latter stages.
Italy saw out the final moments to make it three wins from three without conceding. But the bigger story was Wales who advanced to the knockout rounds automatically after finishing ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.
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