Soccer-New-look Italy beat Wales as both teams advance to last 16


Soccer Football - Euro 2020 - Group A - Italy v Wales - Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy - June 20, 2021 Italy's Matteo Pessina scores their first goal Pool via REUTERS/Ryan Pierse

ROME (Reuters) -Italy finished top of their Euro 2020 group on Sunday as Matteo Pessina’s first half goal helped a much-changed Azzurri side beat 10-man Wales 1-0 in Rome, while the visitors held on to second place despite the defeat.

The Italians had already guaranteed their progress from Group A, but they assured themselves of first place with victory, while Wales secured a last-16 berth too by finishing ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.

The Swiss, who could still advance as one of the four best third-placed teams, beat Turkey 3-1 in Baku.

Italy will face the runners-up of Group C next in London on June 26, while Wales will take on the runners-up of Group B on the same day in Amsterdam.

Roberto Mancini's side are now unbeaten in 30 games, equalling their all-time best run recorded from 1935 to 1939, and kept a clean sheet for an 11th consecutive match to underline their credentials as potential tournament winners.

"We are happy. But we know that after the group stage we start a new European championship, now it will be different," Mancini said.

"This is because the guys are very clever and they wanted to win every game, they have a good mentality. I am very happy also for this reason, because we changed eight players and we played a very good game."

Pessina volleyed the dominant hosts in front at a lively Stadio Olimpico after 39 minutes as they put in an impressive display despite Mancini replacing eight of the players who started in a 3-0 win over Switzerland on Wednesday.

Wales' task was made harder when defender Ethan Ampadu was sent off in the 56th minute for a stamp on Federico Bernardeschi's ankle minutes after the Italian winger's free-kick had struck the post.

Italy's relentless pressure continued as they pushed for a second, but Gareth Bale squandered a rare chance to earn Wales a draw when he volleyed over unmarked from 12 yards.

"We dug in, dug in for Ethan (Ampadu). We have each other’s backs and finished off the job. We could have nicked a draw maybe on another day, but it wasn’t to be, but we are delighted to finish second," said Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey.

FRESH LEGS

With Italy already through, Mancini made eight changes to his team, a joint record number for the Azzurri between games at a major tournament.

But the new-look Italy side appeared comfortable on a hot, muggy evening in Rome.

Andrea Belotti flashed a shot wide from a tight angle, Chris Gunter headed narrowly over from a corner for the Welsh and Federico Chiesa’s volley was deflected off the line.

Marco Verratti, returning after a lengthy injury lay-off, played a key role in the opening goal as he won a free-kick on the right wing and swung it in to the near post for Pessina to finish.

It was Italy’s seventh goal of the tournament, matching their best-ever tally from the 1998 World Cup after three group stage matches at a major tournament.

Bernardeschi cannoned a free-kick off the foot of the post early in the second half, and a few minutes later the Italy winger had his foot stamped on by Ampadu, leading to the defender’s dismissal.

Wales’ task became even harder with 10 men, and the Italian pressure continued as Belotti’s close-range shot was blocked by Danny Ward.

Wales had a golden chance to snatch a draw when a free-kick was headed into the path of the unmarked Bale in the area, but the skipper blasted his finish over the bar.

Mancini made sure to give all 11 players who started the last game some rest, as Leonardo Bonucci and Jorginho were replaced in the second half and even goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was taken off in the final minute.

(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic and Alasdair Mackenzie; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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