Euro 2020(1): Italy vs Wales, Live
Amid the mourning for the end of three match days, we’ve now reached the final round of matches in the group stage of this summers European Championships, so we’re now faced with the baffling permutations of tournament football. Italy are home and hosed. They’re through to the second round with a game to spare. Wales, however, needed their win against Turkey last week. Those three points gave them a crucial advantage over Switzerland and Turkey, who play the other group match in Baku while they and Italy are locking horns in Rome.
Tournament football is, of course, all about breaking records, but Wales have one that they’ll be desperate to keep intact this evening. The data size may be tiny – 1958 and 2016 – but, once Wales have got actually got through to the finals of a major tournament, they’ve never previously failed to reach at least the quarter-finals of the competition. And they’re in an excellent position to be able to do so again tonight. Their confidence will never have been higher, off the back of that accomplished win in Baku last week, and on the basis of what we’ve seen so far they look very much like the second best team in their group after their opponents tonight.
Italy have purred their way through their two matches already played, and much has been made of their form since Roberto Mancini took charge of the team following their failure to reach the finals of the 2018 World Cup. One question, however, remains about Mancini’s team: only four of the 32 matches they’ve played since he took over have been against teams from the top twenty in the FIFA rankings, and while the confidence-boosting effect of winning game after game against relatively moderate opposition, what will happen once they have to face the current cream of the crop?
This question in itself leads to one particularly fascinating conundrum. This tournament is, of course, like no other. Quite aside from the small matter of giving so many nations home advantage throughout the group stage (and especially after sixteen months of playing in front of empty stands), the truth is the peculiarities of tournament football mean that many teams may have entered this competition without being able to completely accurately gauge how good they even are. Wales reached the semi-finals of the last Euros but failed to qualify for the last World Cup and they’ve been under new management for the last few months. Italy’s incredible unbeaten run has to end some time. Why shouldn’t it be Wales who break it? After all, the only teams to have beaten them in their last 25 matches have been England, Belgium and France, three of the top four teams in the world right now, according to the FIFA rankings. (Yes, yes, I know.)
Kick-off is at five o’clock UK time, so I’ll be back then to take you through it. (Also, for the first time in this tournament I’m not watching on my own, which is nice.)
For now, though, here are the teams:
Wales: Ward, Ampadu, Rodon, Gunter, C Roberts, Morrell, Allen, N Williams, Bale, Ramsey, James.
Italy: Donnarumma, Tolói, Bonucci, Bastoni, Emerson, Jorginho, Pessina, Verratti, Bernardeschi, Chiesa, Belotti.