D.he Italian fans in the curve sang “Un’estate italiana” by Gianna Nannini after the final whistle, and their heroes on the pitch stormed them cheerfully. Even with a better B-Eleven, EM title contender Italy confidently secured victory in the group and once again demonstrated their strong form before the start of the knockout phase. The next “magical night”, as sung in Nannini’s World Cup hit in 1990, did not deliver the Azzurri in the 1-0 (1-0) against Wales on Sunday evening; but another very, very mature gig.
“We greet Rome and dedicate this victory to everyone who has suffered in the past year and a half,” said Italy’s coach Roberto Mancini to the countrymen who were hard hit by the corona pandemic. The game was “not easy”, but his players did it “very well”. The decisive goal in front of 14,400 spectators in Rome was achieved by Matteo Pessina, one of eight newcomers to the hosts’ starting line-up, in the 39th minute. Ten minutes after the break, Welshman Ethan Ampadu saw the red card for a foul.
The four-time soccer world champion remained unbeaten in the 30th game in a row and set the Italian record from the 30s. Italy currently has eleven wins in a row with 32-0 goals. The Azzurri face Austria or Ukraine after their perfect group stage with three wins on Saturday at London’s Wembley Stadium. As runners-up in group, Wales will face runner-up in Group B on the same day in Amsterdam with Belgium, Russia, Finland and Denmark.
Matteo Pessina, one of eight newcomers to Italy’s starting eleven, decided the game in front of 14,400 spectators in Rome with his goal in the 39th minute. Ten minutes after the break, Welshman Ethan Ampadu saw the red card for a foul in midfield.
Italy coach Mancini had radically rebuilt his starting line-up after beating Switzerland 3-0. Midfield star Marco Verratti (Paris Saint-Germain) made his comeback after a knee injury. Captain Giorgio Chiellini (thigh injury) was not in the squad. Former Dortmund’s Ciro Immobile and midfielder Manuel Locatelli, who have already scored twice at this tournament, sat on the bench.
In terms of play, the Azzurri were superior despite the large rotation. The Italians could not build on the exciting offensive football that they had shown in the first two games. Little by little they found their way into the game against extremely staid Welshmen. Fullback Rafael Toloi caused the greatest danger in the first half hour with a deflected shot from the backcourt (17th) and striker Andrea Belotti, whose attempt rushed past the goal from an acute angle (24th).
In extremely humid conditions and temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius, the Welsh people largely restricted themselves to defensive work and left the ball to the opponent. The early 2-0 lead of pursuers Switzerland in the parallel game against Turkey did not change that. Once the guests were even dangerous after a corner, but defender Chris Gunter headed just wide of the goal (27th).
On the other hand, Italy did better in a standard situation. Pessina skilfully extended a free kick from Verratti from the right half-field with her right foot into the lower left corner. It was the well-deserved leadership for the European champions from 1968, who last won all three preliminary round matches at a European Championship 21 years ago. Back then, the Italians only lost to France in the final.
Even after the break, dormant balls remained a popular means: Italy’s Federico Bernardeschi hammered a free kick from almost 30 meters into the left post (53rd). Two minutes later, the Welsh men weakened themselves: the former Ampadu from Leipzig saw a red spot for a kick against Bernardeschi by the Romanian referee Ovidiu Alin Hategan.
As a result, there was even less offensively from the Welsh. Italy could even have increased it, with a good chance by Belotti after a counterattack (65th). It wasn’t until 15 minutes before the end that the guests’ largely pale superstar, Gareth Bale, became dangerous again and shot over the goal while standing free.