By Mukwuzi Joseph
Wales have qualified for the knockout stages of Euro 2020 despite losing to Italy in Rome on Sunday afternoon.
A marginally superior goal difference than that of Switzerland means that Robert Page’s side have progressed to the next stage of the competition.
It was widely anticipated as a huge challenge for Wales, with Italy establishing themselves as early tournament favourites with their blistering form in the competition’s opening two matches.
The Azzurri were relentless over the course of the contest but Wales – with the exception of Italy’s sole strike from a set piece in the first half – were able to keep Italy out, protect their goal difference and seal their progression from Group A.
Thirteen and a half thousand fans were allowed in to Rome’s Stadio Olimpico to see the sides’ final match in Group A.
It appeared to be a fairly even contest in the opening exchanges, with Italy knocking the ball around comfortably but unable to create any clear cut chances.
However, the “home” side soon began to find their rhythm and show their menace going forward, Bellotti almost getting on the end of a wonderfully whipped ball into the area.
Wales appeared to be coping well with the Azzurri pressure for the most part and even looked to be making their own ventures forward, stringing together passes with some neat interplay between Daniel James and Aaron Ramsey down the left hand side.
Defender Chris Gunter was unlucky to send a bullet header at the near post wide of the target from a corner.
Although that chance marked Wales’ only genuine opportunity at causing Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma any serious work in the first half.
The influence of Marco Verratti, Italy’s experienced midfield technician, grew as the first half developed and it soon proved to be decisive.
Shielding the ball from the onrushing Joe Allen and drawing a foul, it was then Veratti’s low and clever delivery from the resulting free kick that allowed Matteo Pessina to angle an effort into the far corner beyond the reach of Danny Ward.
Italy emerged for the second half looking every bit as dangerous as they had ended the first, Bernardeschi smacking the post with a free kick from 25 yards out.
Soon after Aaron Ramsey somehow found himself through on goal after a rare Italian defensive lapse let him run through at Donnarumma, although Italy were swift to snuff out the danger.