Wales were beaten in Rome but still claimed a top-two group finish at Euro 2020, ensuring they join Italy in the knockout round.
The Dragons’ earlier work in Group A – a draw with Switzerland and victory over Turkey – ultimately proved enough to secure a runners-up spot behind the Italians, who secured a 1-0 win over them courtesy of a first-half goal from Atalanta’s Matteo Pessina.
Italy advance with three victories from three matches, continuing their 100 per cent winning record from qualifying. The Azzurri have now gone 11 games without conceding and 30 matches unbeaten, underlining their credentials as contenders for the European crown.
Roberto Mancini made eight changes to his side but retained the services of Jorginho in midfield, while Emerson Palmieri made his first appearance at a major finals at left-back in a tweaked back four. For Wales, Ethan Ampadu came in as the middle centre-back in a three-man defence as one of their three alterations from last time out.
As expected, the hosts enjoyed most of the play and ended the game with 23 goal attempts, six of which were on target. The first of that half-dozen was taken by Emerson, who was handed licence to roam forward endlessly from left-back. The 26-year-old fired in a decent effort after 15 minutes but saw Wales keeper Danny Ward make a comfortable stop.
The defender also saw a speculative penalty appeal waved away on the half-hour mark, while Jorginho continued his excellent tournament form busying himself in central areas, alongside the returning Marco Verratti and goalscorer Pessina.
The Chelsea number five was withdrawn after 75 minutes and exited the action with an incredible 98 per cent pass completion, alongside two key passes and two take-ons.
He even teed up club team-mate Emerson for a decent chance in the second half, though the full-back failed to find the target. The midfielder’s withdrawal was undoubtedly made to protect him ahead of the battles that lie ahead.
Italy’s goal came six minutes before the break when Pessina stole a march on the Wales defenders to make first contact with Verratti’s low free-kick and steer it perfectly into the far corner. It was their seventh goal at the tournament so far.
Yet all hope was not lost for Wales, who knew their finish as runners-up would be safe unless Switzerland could instigate a significant goal difference swing in beating Turkey in the other group game.
The task was made decidedly tougher 10 minutes into the second period, however, when Ampadu was sent off after catching Federico Bernardeschi late on the top of his foot. In the process, the 20-year-old became the youngest player in Euros history to be shown a straight red card, though he could count himself a little unlucky at the severity of the sanction.
Even with a man down, Wales still carried a threat and ought to have equalised when Gareth Bale blazed over a great opportunity with a left-footed volley. Yet Switzerland’s 3-1 win in Baku meant the Welshmen were safe in second and they can celebrate a successive appearance in the last 16 following their run to the semi-finals in 2016.
They will now head to Amsterdam on Saturday to take on the runners-up from Group B, which could be Russia, Finland or Denmark. Meanwhile, Italy will be in action next at Wembley as they take on either Ukraine or Austria.