Welcome one and all to the FourFourTwo liveblog of Italy vs Wales. We’ll be attempting to keep you updated over the next few hours (having over-indulged slightly during, and after Germany’s 4-2 defeat of Portugal yesterday). The teams are due to drop shortly.
The Italy team is in. Coach Roberto Mancini hinted he'd make changes and save some legs with qualification for the knockouts secured and he's been as good as his word. Eight changes for the Azzurri, with only goalkeeper Gianluigi Donarrumma, centre-back Leonardo Bonucci and midfielder Jorginho remaining.
Paris St-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti returns from injury, Alessandro Bastoni replaces captain Giorgio Chiellini (who has a muscle injury) and there are starting spots for Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri, right-back Rafael Toloi, midfielder Matteo Pessina and forwards Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernadeschi and Andrea Belotti.
#EURO2020 Our starting XI for #ITAWAL! 📋#ITA #Azzurri #VivoAzzurro pic.twitter.com/gndPbe4WfqJune 20, 2021
There are changes too for Wales. Robert Page makes three changes, resting Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore. All are a booking away from suspension.
Chris Gunter, Ethan Ampadu and Neco Williams come into a team which looks like switching to a 3-4-3 system with Aaron Ramsey – who scored the opening goal against Turkey – as a false nine.
DREIGIAU GLYNDŴR 🏴#WAL | #EURO2020 | #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/ctme3OoQrFJune 20, 2021
Italy have probably been team of the tournament so far and Roberto Mancini has rung the changes to save tired legs.
After successive 3-0 victories against Turkey and Switzerland, Italy know they are already through to the last 16. A draw is enough for them to top Group A, which would lead to a game against Group C’s runners-up, most likely to be either Ukraine or Austria.
Wales’ brilliant 2-0 victory against Turkey on Wednesday evening has all but ensured their knockout berth, regardless of today’s result. A point, though, guarantees Robert Page’s side spot in the knockout stages. There, they would face Group B’s runners-up, probably either Russia or Finland.
After the debacle that was Italy’s failure to qualify for the last World Cup – a catastrophe unheard of in 60 years – Roberto Mancini took over the hot seat and reignited the Azzurri’s fortunes. Italy are now unbeaten in 29 matches, winning their previous 10 without conceding a single goal.
If they win today, Mancini’s men will equal their own national record of 11 consecutive wins.
They may lack individual stars – especially today, given Mancini's changes to the starting XI – but this is a proper team, make no mistake.
Three-time world champions Italy have only one European crown to their name, winning Euro 68, their first tournament appearance.
Beaten finalists in 2000 and 2012, the Azzurri also reached the semi-finals in 1980 and 1988, going out in the last eight to Germany – on penalties, obviously – last time out at Euro 2016.
They have unfinished business in this competition and have begun the 2020 version with the proverbial rocket up their backsides.
If Italy have traditionally underachieved in the European Championship, then Wales are contenders for the competition's modern specialists.
Only France have won more European Championship games since the start of Euro 2016 than the Dragons. Just imagine the #scenes if they upset Italy today...
This evening will be the 10th meeting between the two sides (Italy have seven, Wales two), but their first for 18 years. In March 2003, Italy cruised to a 4-0 win at San Siro thanks to a Filippo Inzaghi hat-trick.
Welsh fans, however, will remember the reverse fixture in Euro 2004 qualifying, when Craig Bellamy’s 70th-minute strike secured a famous 2-1 win against an Italy team including Buffon, Cannavaro, Nesta, Del Piero and Pirlo. The Dragons had Andy Melville at the back.
Just in case you’re not already in the mood for it...🎥 @BBCSportWales #WAL | #EURO2020 | #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/gDhEgo1qgCJune 20, 2021
In fact, before the tournament began, we ran the numbers and found that Wales are actually the best team in European Championship history.
The return of Chris Gunter on the left of a back three this evening will see him extend his record as the most capped Welshman of all-time.
Gareth Bale is his country's most prolific goalscorer and will look to extend his five-goal lead on Ian Rush. His missed penalty against Turkey may just have re-entered the atmosphere (not that he'll care all that much).
Tonight, Leonardo Bonucci will win his 105th Italy cap, moving to within four of his great survivor at the heart of the Azzurri defence, Giorgio Chiellini.
Chiellini was interviewed on ITV a few minutes ago and seemed in chipper mood, despite missing out tonight through injury. I always expect him to be monosyllabic because of how he plays and a somewhat craggy countenance, but the guy is always so smiley.
Next, you'll be telling me that Claudio Gentile loved cuddling puppies and doing crochet...
Another positive for Wales is how well they coped with being the de-facto away team against Turkey in Azerbaijan. Sure, you'd rather not face Italy in Rome in front of 13,000 fans at a major tournament finals, but the Red Wall love nothing more than being the underdog.
With kick off nearly upon us, it will shortly be time for the national anthems. This could be the biggest clash of the evening, both of these are bona fide bangers.
ANTHEM WATCH: Wales good, but their supporters sing better than their players...
ANTHEM WATCH PART II: Italy edge the battle of the anthems. Azzurri skipper Bonucci nearly headbutts the camera he's so up for it.
I wouldn't fancy going into a 50-50 with him early doors.
KICK OFF! And we're off in Rome.
Both teams feeling each other out for the opening five minutes. It's no surprise Wales have tried to spring long balls in behind the full-backs, but Italy have gone long, too.
Given a lot of the nonsense non-kit clashes you get these days, it's nice to see red vs blue today.
More red-hot takes as I think of them.
Switzerland have gone ahead against Turkey. Not ideal for Wales, but there's still a long way to go.
Turkey were many people's dark horses. They'll be off to the glue factory at this rate.
There was some debate before kick-off as to whether Ramsey would false nine it, or if he'd play off a wide front two of Bale and James.
It looks like it's the former, with Ramsey central and (relatively) high.
Italy are beginning to assert themselves here. Alessandro Bastoni, the young Inter centre-back, swings in a fine cross deep on the left which is only just ahead of centre-forward Belotti.
More Italian pressure. Federico Chiesa – the son of Enrico – is looking lively down the Italian right and fancies his chances against Chris Gunter. Fifteen minutes gone.
Emerson stings the palms of Danny Ward in the Wales goal with a strike from range, then midfielder Matteo Pessina also bundles a strike at goal.
Pessina is something of an art appreciator. He has a Van Gogh (not an original) on his living room wall, loves the ballet and speaks a bit of Latin.
And to think most footballers used to be considered culturally 'with it' if they like Phil Collins.
Wales enjoy their first real spell of pressure. Bale skedaddles into the box, but is well tackled by Bonucci.
Wales win it back high, though, and James and an overlapping Ethan Ampadu force Italy onto the back foot.
HALF CHANCE: Bernadeschi zooms into the Wales and his cross-shot flies across the six-yard box and out for a goal kick. With 25 minutes gone, Italy are the better team but haven't created anything too clear cut.
WALES CHANCE: Wales win a corner after Ramsey gets in behind Bonucci. Dan James' inswinging delivery is met by Gunter at the near post, his fine header just over. Better from Wales.
Switzerland have a second against Turkey, who go another step closer to the glue factory. Wales will need a point if they're to finish second in the group.
Neco Williams gets caught under a cross from the left. Chiesa controls brilliantly and fires across goal again. Ampadu deflects it out for a corner, which comes to nothing.
Left-back Emerson is looking lively. He zips around Joe Rodon, who is clearly worried by the Chelsea man's pace.
Italy starting to turn the screw again with half an hour gone.
Verratti and Jorginho are starting to dominate possession now. Both are looking for the ping into the space between left centre-back Gunter and left wing-back Williams. They've found Chiesa – probably the most dangerous Italian attacker thus far – a few times.
GOAL! Italy 1-0 Wales. Pessina opens the scoring.
Wales' resistance is broken. Verratti, who's starting to dictates matters now, won a free-kick on the right-hand side. The PSG midfielder curled in a low cross, which Atalanta midfielder Pessina clipped on its way beyond Danny Ward into the far corner.
That had been coming, in truth.
Wales need half time here. Bernadeschi forces a corner which ends up in Ward's gloves by pure luck.
Three minutes until the break.
Here's the Italy goal. Really cute stuff from Pessina, whose childhood spent watching ballet did wonders for his balance and awareness.
#ITA lead - and that's such a tidy finish from Pessina 👏As things stand, #WAL are still second in Group A - but with #SUI 2-0 up on #TUR, that goal difference advantage is starting to ebb away...#ITAWAL | #ITVFootball | #Euro2020 pic.twitter.com/bc3faqqIFjJune 20, 2021
HALF TIME: Italy 1-0 Wales
Italy deservedly lead at the break. The longer that half went on, the more Jorginho and, in particular, Verratti began to dictate the midfield battle.
You wonder whether Page may change to a three-man midfield in the second half because the Joes Allen and Morrell are struggling to contain their opposite numbers.
Wales may need to invoke some of the 2016 spirit if they're to get anything out of this game.
Remind yourself of Welsh football's summer of love, with Huw Davies' superb long read. Cannot recommend this enough.
As Hal Robson-Kanu has just pointed out in the ITV studio, both the goals Wales have conceded from a set piece this tournament. They need to sort that out, and quickly.
As things stand, Wales are still second in the group, ahead of Switzerland on goal difference. It will only need a two-goal swing in the second half for that to change, though.
Do you think you can get back into this, Wales fans? Tweet us @FourFourTwo.
Today marks the 45th anniversary of the greatest penalty of all time.
But how did Panenka come to think of the Euro 76-winning spot-kick which now bears his name? Find out with our great long read.
On this day in 1974: step forward Antonin Panenka... 🇨🇿pic.twitter.com/1DsNNIhCMWJune 20, 2021
Wales will need all their fabled spirit to turn this one around. According to Opta, Italy haven't lost a competitive game in which they've scored since June 2013 at the Confederations Cup, winning 39 and drawing 12 times.
Italy are also 45 minutes away from equalling their national record of 30 games unbeaten and 11 consecutive victories.
Mancini has done a brilliant job with this team.
SECOND HALF KICKS OFF!
The second half has started. Bonucci has come off, to rest his legs. Lazio's Francesco Acerbi replaces him.
Acerbi's is a great story. He overcame testicular cancer in 2013, which he has described as “a terrible paradox but the cancer saved me. It was a start of a new life for me”.
Isn't football great sometimes?
Bastoni – every inch the throwback Italian defender who loves a tackle – goes through the back of Bale.
Bale has been quiet today after his two assists against Turkey.
BERNADESCHI HITS THE POST!
Joe Allen goes into the referee's notebook for tripping Belotti when well placed. From the ensuing free-kick, Bernadeschi curls around the Welsh wall and thuds into Ward's right-hand post.
WALES HALF CHANCE!
Ramsey gets in behind right-back Toloi and cuts in from the byeline. Donnarumma smothers well.
WALES RED CARD!
Ethan Ampadu has been sent off. The Chelsea midfielder is late on Bernardeschi, the studs-first nature of the challenge persuading the referee to issue a straight red.
John Hartson isn't convinced on commentary (as you'd expect) but Peter Walton is there to put him right.
Thank the lord for Peter Walton. I wouldn't sleep at night if I didn't know whether a semi-contentious refereeing decision was accurate or not.
It's hard to see Wales getting back into this now. It'll be backs to the wall stuff to keep the score down and ensure second place in the group.
Kieffer Moore, who is on a yellow card, comes on for Joe Morrell.
Positive change from Robert Page. Wales are getting overrun in midfield and he's brought the Cardiff forward on instead of bolstering central areas. Ramsey will play a bit deeper for the last half hour.
A bit of good news for Wales! Turkey have got one back against Switzerland. The Swiss lead 2-1 now and need three goals to overhaul the Dragons.
Do you think this was a red card, Wales fans? Let us know @FourFourTwo on Twitter.
Italy are really turning the screw now. Bernadeschi, who is increasingly influential, fires an outswinging corner at right-back Toloi who heads over.
Moments later, Emerson and Jorginho combine well to force another corner.
Just over 20 minutes to go.
Switzerland have scored again, Xherdan Shaqiri bagging his second of the game. They lead 3-1 and are back to within two of Wales.
There aren't going to be many fingernails left in the Valleys tonight.
Connor Roberts has just hurled a couple of monster long throws into the Italy box. That could be a real threat for Wales as we enter the final 15 minutes.
Apropos of nothing, I love Roberts. He's transformed his garage into a workshop and makes dining room tables. While everyone else watches Netflix on the team bus " I watch YouTube and try and learn how to do stuff because I’m no pro with it all and there’s always stuff to learn."
Jorginho (who's run the show in midfield) is off for Roma's Bryan Cristante. Raspadori comes on for the impressive Bernadeschi.
Harry Wilson replaces James for Wales.
GREAT CHANCE FOR WALES!
Bale should score. The ball is pumped into the box, Rodon heads back to Bale, who is seven yards out with just Donnarumma to beat. Falling away, the Real Madrid man blazes the volley well over. That'll be in the outer reaches of the atmosphere, along with his Turkey penalty.
There are 10 minutes for Wales to see out here. Italy look dangerous every time they approach the final third, but Rodon is a fine last-ditch defender, so hope remains.
Verratti is trotting around this pitch like a puffed-up peacock on his way to All Bar One.
Manuel Locatelli was superb against Switzerland but he might not get back in the Italy team now the PSG man is fit again. Which would be very harsh.
Still lots of Italian pressure, still plenty of good defensive work from Rodon, who heads clear.
Triple Wales substitution.
David Brooks, Ben Davies and Dylan Levitt on for Bale, Williams and Allen.
For Italy, ballet lover replaces ballet lover as goalscorer Pessina comes off for Gaetano Castrovilli. The Roma midfielder only swapped the barre for the pitch when his grandfather, a huge Giallorossi fan, died.
A banter substitution for Italy, keeper Sirigu replacing Donnarumma between the sticks.
Just 30 seconds of normal time to go.
Three minutes of injury time. Wales have one-and-a-half feet in the last 16 as Group A runners-up.
Danny Ward makes a good save low to right.
Wales should be ok now, or at least John Hartson sounds confident for the first time this evening. Just under a minute to go.
FULL TIME Italy 1-0 Wales
A narrow Wales defeat, but that's still second spot in Group A secured. It finishes 3-1 to Switzerland in the other game, they will have to wait and see if four points is enough for them.
Congratulations to Robert Page and his squad. They dug in with 10 men and deserve to go through for that brilliant point against Switzerland and the victory over Turkey.
Wales will meet the runners-up of Group B – one of Finland, Russia or Denmark, depending on tomorrow evening's results – at 5pm in Amsterdam on Saturday.
Italy will face Group C's runners-up (either Austria or Ukraine) at 8pm on Saturday at Wembley.
Roberto Mancini's side are now 30 games unbeaten and have won their last 11 games in a row, all without conceding. Both equal national records.
They will take some beating in this tournament.
"Back to back knockout stages is an incredible achievement," says Joe Ledley in the ITV studio.
It's hard to disagree.
"We have to recover now. We've got five days until the next game, we'll patch everyone up and go again," says Wales skipper Gareth Bale, with a beaming smile.
Your chance to vote on what is undoubtedly the evening's most important issue...
Bringing on Sirigu was...#ITA #ITAWAL #EURO2020June 20, 2021
AARON RAMSEY SPEAKS
He sounds absolutely shattered: "It was tough. We showed great character and dug in for Ethan. I feel sorry for him. We finished off the job. We created a couple of chances and could've nicked a draw at the end, but it wasn't to be. We got through, though, so that's the most important thing. We showed glimpses of what we can do against a really good team. We're delighted."
ROBERTO MANCINI SPEAKS
He's got his baby blue jacket tossed coquettishly over his shoulder, too: "We're happy but we know that after the group stage, we start a new European Championship. The guys are very clever players, they have a good mentality. I'm very happy for this reason because I made eight changes and they all performed brilliantly."
We're bringing the blog to a close for this evening. Congratulations to Wales and Robert Page for reaching the knockout stages of the European Championship for the second successive tournament. And becoming the first Home Nation to do so in Euro 2020.
Gareth, enjoy your round of golf in the next couple of days.
I'll see you next time. Thanks reading.
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