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Matteo Pessina ensures Italy top group but 10-man Wales go through in second


Half an hour before kick-off, when the team sheets were read aloud for the first time, the loudest Roman roar was reserved for the Italy manager, Roberto Mancini. On the front of Gazzetta dello Sport’s pullout last week, Mancini was mocked up in the dugout alongside Albert Einstein but a third successive victory, which extended their unbeaten run to a record-equalling 30 matches, required little genius. In fact, they barely broke sweat on a muggy evening on which Matteo Pessina scored the only goal to beat Wales.

Wales, who had Ethan Ampadu sent off 10 minutes into the second half, became their latest victims but Italy’s failure to press home their one-man advantage ensured Robert Page’s side will qualify from Group A in second place, teeing up a last-16 date in Amsterdam on Saturday. Italy’s supporters enjoyed themselves and by the end there was a carnival atmosphere as a Mexican wave made its way around this cavernous stadium. It was an outcome that suited both teams, even if Ampadu’s red card will rankle.

For Wales, this was about as sweet a defeat as they come. A combination of steely resilience and Switzerland’s failure to plunder another two goals against Turkey ensured Wales progress as runners-up to Italy, whose aggressive and penetrative style often left the red shirts with nowhere to turn.

Wales had their moments. Before Pessina struck Chris Gunter headed narrowly wide from a Daniel James corner and then Aaron Ramsey got stuck in the mud inside the box. Gareth Bale squandered a golden chance late on and in doing so extended his barren run in front of goal for his country to 14 games.

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It is one thing knowing what to expect from Italy and another thing stopping the juggernaut. Italy have not lost a competitive home game since 1999 and not one in Rome since 1953. They suffocated Wales towards the end of an increasingly one-sided first half, swarming upfield at will through the Juventus pair Federico Chiesa and Federico Bernardeschi – teammates of Aaron Ramsey, whose name was heavily jeered when read aloud over before kick-off. Wales were left exposed when Ampadu was handed a straight – and rather harsh – red card 10 minutes into the second for a late tackle on the ankle of Bernardeschi. From that moment on, it was an exhibition of keep-ball by Italy.

Mancini had the luxury of being able to withdraw Leonardo Bonucci at the break and showed a little sentiment with a minute to play, sending on the 34-year-old goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, backup to Gianluigi Donnarumma, for what will probably turn out to be his European Championship swansong.

Gareth Bale consoles Ethan Ampadu after the defender was sent off in the second half.
Gareth Bale consoles Ethan Ampadu after the defender was sent off in the second half. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/AFP/Getty Images

In midfield the returning Marco Verratti was peerless, quick to assert his control, swivelling away from challenges and kick-starting attacks. He proved the catalyst for the goal, winning a foul and then providing a delicious cross for Pessina to steer in. Joe Allen shunted Verratti to the ground 20 yards from the Wales goal but he dusted himself off to whip the resulting free-kick in from the right. Arriving at the front post was Pessina, whose deft touch with the instep of his right foot nestled in the far pocket of Danny Ward’s goal.

And then off he went, haring 50 yards along the touchline into the arms of his teammates, high-fiving Mancini amid the ecstasy of it all. The Atalanta midfielder was on standby for the 26-man squad until injuries to Stefano Sensi and Lorenzo Pellegrini. Verratti crafted another chance moments later as Italy sought to double their advantage but an outstretched Pessina toe-poked wide.

Mancini promised changes and made eight of them, with Donnarumma, who is poised to join Paris Saint-Germain, Bonucci and Jorginho the only survivors from their 3-0 stroll against Switzerland. Wales, too, tweaked things with one eye on the last 16, with Ben Davies and Kieffer Moore, both of whom are another booking away from suspension, reduced to substitute roles. Five years ago Davies, together with Ramsey, missed the Euro 2016 semi-final defeat to Portugal after totting up cautions earlier in the competition.

On the sidelines, Mancini exuded confidence, as did his team en route to racking up an 11th successive victory. At one point Mancini, in a white Giorgio Armani shirt and royal blue tie, rolled back the years, controlling a wayward pass in the home dugout despite wearing black loafers, killing the ball almost dead and drawing a wave of applause from the crowd. Along the touchline the tattooed Page, in tracksuit bottoms and a polo shirt, urged his team to dig in.

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Ward twice made fine saves to deny the lively Andrea Belotti and Bernardeschi rattled a post from a free-kick after Verratti sold Wales a dummy. Ampadu’s dismissal saw all hope of a stirring comeback evaporate and the defender was consoled by his Chelsea teammate Jorginho and then Bale, who put his arm around him as he left the pitch close to tears before ripping off his shirt in frustration. Page placed both hands on his head but ultimately there was no need for such glumness. Wales are through to the knockout stages of the European Championship. Again.



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