ROME (AFP) – Matteo Pessina scored as Italy made it three wins out of three at Euro 2020 by beating 10-man Wales 1-0 to finish top of Group A early yesterday with both teams advancing to the last 16.
Pessina’s goal means Italy will play the runner-up from Group C in the next round, with Wales facing the team that comes second in Group B.
Roberto Mancini, who took over the Azzurri after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, also saw his side match an 82-year Italian record.
Italy extended their unbeaten run to 30 games – 25 wins and five draws – a feat last achieved under two-time World Cup winning coach Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939.
“It’s nice to have equalled a legend like Pozzo. But he has more important trophies than the 30 games,” said Mancini.
“It couldn’t get better than this. We could have scored one more goal but they defended themselves the whole game, they are a physical team. Then it was hot. We did very well.”
Mancini added, “Anyone who gets past the first round are in contention to win.”
It was also an 11th consecutive win with a clean sheet for Italy who had already booked their ticket to the knockout rounds with a game to spare. Italy will play Ukraine or Austria at Wembley on June 26 for a spot in the quarter-finals.
Wales, semi-finalists in 2016, suffered in a game they played a man down for most of the second half after Ethan Ampadu was sent off for a foul on Federico Bernardeschi.
“It’s the feeling of winning because we’ve got second spot,” said Wales coach Robert Page.
“We knew it was a tough game. Going down to 10 men was a bigger hill to climb. The guys dug deep and we got second.
“As crazy at it is, with 10 men we could have drawn the game with Gareth (Bale).”
Real Madrid’s Bale, Wales’ all-time leading scorer with 33 international goals, could not add to his tally, missing a chance for the equaliser in the final quarter of an hour.
Page made three changes to his starting line-up, Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore dropping to the bench with the trio one booking away from suspension.
Mancini also brought in fresh players for their final group game with eight changes, and a three-man frontline with Federico Chiesa, Andrea Belotti and Federico Bernardeschi.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti proved decisive on his return from injury with his free-kick before the break finding Pessina whose clever flick left Danny Ward with no chance in the Wales goal.
It was the first goal for Italy in a major competition for the Atalanta player who had been called up as a late addition after Stefano Sensi’s injury.