A goal from Matteo Pessina earned Italy a 1-0 win over Cymru at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday, but Rob Page's side held onto second place in Group A to book their place in the round of 16.
UEFA EURO 2020
Italy 1-0 Cymru
- Pessina 39'
- Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Midfielder Ethan Ampadu was shown a straight red card early in the second half for a foul on Federico Bernardeschi in the middle of midfield, while Aaron Ramsey and captain Gareth Bale both had chances to level after Pessina had put Roberto Mancini's side ahead before half-time.
Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore were left out of the starting line-up having collected yellow cards in the opening two games as Cymru reverted to a three-man defence. However, Italy were dominant for long periods of the match, and have now extended their undefeated run of games to 30, winning the last 11 without conceding a single goal in the process.
Italy pressured the Cymru defence from the start without asking many questions of goalkeeper Danny Ward, but it was Chris Gunter who came close to scoring his first international goal after 27 minutes when he headed a corner from Daniel James over the crossbar. Despite the glimmer of hope, Italian soon regained control, and it was Federico Chiesa who caused problems for Cymru with a series of crosses from the right.
The only goal of the game arrived on 37 minutes as Matteo Pessina flicked a free-kick from Marco Verratti past Ward at the far post. It was no more than Italy deserved, and Cymru had to be at their best to prevent Roberto Mancini's side from increasing their lead before the break as Chiesa and Bernardeschi pulled the Cymru defence out of position with their calculated runs into the area.
With Switzerland leading against Turkey in Baku, it was crucial that Cymru did not concede again, and the dismissal of Ampadu brought with it a natural change to a back four as the side worked hard to frustrate Italy while creating the occasional chance on the counter-attack. Both Ramsey and Bale found themselves in space in the area, with Bale's volley on 76 minutes proving to be the best chance of the game for Page's side.
Prior to Ampadu's red card, Bernardeschi had hit the post from a free-kick for Italy, and they were deserved winners despite the effort and commitment shown by Cymru throughout the second half. However, the success in qualifying for the knock-out stages will make the result an irrelevance for Page and his squad, and the focus now is very much on recovery and preparing for the next challenge.
We're through – Despite the defeat, the bigger picture was always about qualifying for the round of 16, and Cymru have now achieved this for the second EURO in succession. At the end of the group stage, eight teams will leave the tournament, but Cymru will not be one of them. It hasn't been an easy ride, but the character of this team has once again shone through, and history tells us that anything is possible when it comes to Cymru and the EURO finals.
Alternative options– Manager Rob Page made three changes to his team and a tactical change as he reverted to a three-man defence. His predecessors were rarely blessed with such options, but this is the strength in depth that now exists within the squad. Page could change back to the 4-2-3-1 formation for the knock-out stages, but predicting team his selections has become very difficult, and the manager will be more than happy to keep his opposite number guessing ahead of the next match.
Learning from adversity – A red card for Neco Williams in the friendly against France earlier this month was used as a learning experience should the situation arise during the tournament. On 55 minutes, Ethan Ampadu was shown a straight red card for his tackle on Federico Bernardeschi, and Cymru had to adapt accordingly. Moving to a back four was a familiar switch for the team, and Cymru still created chances to equalise despite the strong Italian side having the numerical advantage.
“We knew it was going to be a very difficult game from the start. There was a lot of defending, a lot of running and there's some very tired bodies out there. I'm proud of the boys, obviously we wanted to try and get a result but it's made no difference as we finished second anyway. We had to dig deep and we have to just recover now. So we'll patch everyone up and do it all again.” - Captain Gareth Bale speaking to ITVSport.
“For long periods of that game it was tough. We were up against a great team, and to go 30 games unbeaten is some achievement so fair play. Again, we showed great character, this team - you can never question our character as we gave absolutely everything out there. Again, we dug in and we had each others backs out there and we finished off the job. For us it was important to stay compact and try and create a couple of opportunities. We have a good balance and we just need to be more consistent in games.” - Aaron Ramsey speaking to ITVSport.
“It feels like a win because we've got second spot. We knew we were in for a tough game coming into it and we knew we would have to dig deep on times. It's tough enough with eleven men but to do it with ten men gives us an even bigger hill to climb. Credit to the boys, I can't speak highly enough of them, and I can't be more proud of them. They've got the job done. We want to win every game, and I had to make some tough decisions before the game. There were some massive performances out there today, and they thoroughly deserve all the plaudits that they're going to get.” - Manager Rob Page.
The team selection from Rob Page was based on Cymru having one foot in the next round as the trio of players on a booking were named on the bench. Aaron Ramsey has had limited game time for club and country lately, but put in another relentless performance in what was his third game in nine days. It wasn't a perfect performance against a strong Italian side, but it was an experience that will only make the side stronger.
It was a tough and frustrating afternoon for Cymru, but reaching the round of 16 is what it was all about for Page and his side in Rome. The character and togetherness of this team was again evident as Ampadu was dismissed and the side had to work tirelessly to limit a very talented Italy side from increasing their lead. This is the spirit that defines this team, and could again be the difference when it comes to taking on the next challenge.
Cymru XI: Ward (GK), Ampadu, Rodon, Gunter, C. Roberts, Allen (Levitt 86), Morrell (Moore 60), N. Williams (B. Davies 86), Bale (Brooks 86), Ramsey, James (Wilson 74).
Subs: Hennessey (GK), A. Davies (GK), Lockyer, T. Roberts, Norrington-Davies, J. Williams, Mepham.
With Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore a booking away from missing the next match, it was no surprise to see the trio left out of the starting line-up for this final group match. A tactical change would also see Cymru revert to a variation of a 3-4-3 formation for the first time in the tournament.
Italy XI: Donnarumma (GK) (Sirigu 89), Toloi, Bonucci (Acerbi 46), Bastoni, Emerson, Jorginho (Cristante 75), Verratti, Pessina (Castrovilli 87), Bernardeschi (Raspadori 75), Chiesa, Belotti.
Subs: Meret (GK), Di Lorenzo, Spinazzola, Locatelli, Insigne, Immobile, Barella,.
With their place in the round of 16 assured, manger Roberto Mancini made eight changes to his starting line-up. The biggest change for Italy was in attack with Federico Bernardeschi, Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa all brought in to the Italian side.