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ANALYSIS: Mancini tinkers, but Azzurri engine keeps purring
20 June 2021, 11:38 PM

Roberto Mancini tinkered with the components of his team on Sunday but still the Azzurri purred like a highly-tuned Italian sports car into the business end of Euro 2020.

After impressive 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland had guaranteed a last-16 spot, Mancini made eight changes for their final Group A clash against Wales in Rome.

Often when managers decide to rotate their troops it can lead to a disjointed performance which serves to clarify why some are in the first-choice XI and others are not.

But the players who beat the Welsh 1-0 on Sunday showed that even Italy’s so-called “shadow team” can slot straight in and maintain the seemingly unstoppable momentum they have built up in a national record equalling 30-match unbeaten run.

The all-new front three of Federico Chiesa, Federico Bernardeschi and Andrea Belotti gave the Wales defence a torrid time with their slick movement and inter-play.

Matteo Pessina, another of the eight changes, scored the goal, providing a deft finish to a free kick played in by Paris St Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, making his first start of the tournament after recovering from injury.

Verratti oozed class and will now come into the reckoning for the knockout phase, which Mancini described as like a different tournament after Sunday’s win — Italy’s 11th in a row without conceding a goal.

Bernardeschi struck the post with a free kick, Belotti, Italy’s top scorer in qualifying but relegated to the bench for the finals, was a lively presence and UEFA’s man-of-the-match Chiesa offered width and pace down the right-hand side.

DAZZLING APPROACH

Perhaps the only glitch was that had Italy’s finishing matched their dazzling approach play they would have won by a much larger margin against a Wales side reduced to 10 men after a red card for Ethan Ampadu early in the second half.

Even so their seven goals is a joint Italian record for the group phase of a Euros or World Cup and their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup seems a distant memory.

Just as in the two previous games Italy pressed hard to win the ball and produced several fluent moves starting from their own defence that would have graced Brazilian sides of old.

Such was Mancini’s comfort that he even sent on reserve goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu for the last five minutes, clearly wanting to make every squad member feel he has a role to play.

“The identity has remained the same and I think it is important, I say that changing a few players shouldn’t change anything because everyone knows what they have to do, and the product doesn’t change,” Mancini said.

With a trip to Wembley next to face a likely last-16 clash against either Ukraine or Austria, Mancini’s side have thrust themselves to the front of the pack as potential champions.

While other coaches fret over line-ups, formations and players struggling for form, former Manchester City manager Mancini looks a picture of contentment.

Verratti summed up the happy mood in the Italian camp.

“When we say that this team is for everyone, we’re not just saying that. There are 26 of us and all of us are proud to represent our country and ready to give our best,” he said.

“We are so fortunate and honoured to play for this team and it’s a pure pleasure to be here, whether we play or not.”

By Martyn Herman

Switzerland beat Turkey 3-1 to keep Euro 2020 hopes alive
20 June 2021, 8:56 PM

Xherdan Shaqiri scored twice to lead Switzerland to a 3-1 win against Turkey on Sunday in their Euro 2020 Group A match that kept their hopes of reaching the knockouts alive.

Turkey exit the competition after a third straight defeat while the Swiss hope to progress to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams after finishing level with second-placed Wales on four points but behind on goal difference.

Italy beat Wales 1-0 in the other group match after the Welsh were reduced to 10 men in the second half.

Haris Seferovic opened the scoring for Switzerland in the sixth minute when he took a pass from Steven Zuber before pivoting and driving a left-footed shot into the net from just outside the penalty area.

Switzerland doubled their lead in the 26th minute after Zuber picked up a blocked shot and slipped it to Shaqiri who took a touch and then unleashed a vicious long-range shot that gave the sprawling keeper no chance.

He doubled his tally in the 68th minute when he swept home a cross on the counter, minutes after Irfan Can Kahveci had pulled a goal back for Turkey.

New-look Italy beat Wales as both teams advance to last 16
20 June 2021, 8:46 PM

Italy finished top of their Euro 2020 group on Sunday as Matteo Pessina’s first half goal helped a much-changed Azzurri side beat 10-man Wales 1-0 in Rome, while the visitors held on to second place despite the defeat.

The Italians had already guaranteed their progress from Group A, but they assured themselves of first place with victory, while Wales secured a berth too by finishing ahead of Switzerland on goal difference.

The Swiss, who could still advance as one of the four best third-placed teams, beat Turkey 3-1 in Baku.

Italy are now unbeaten in 30 games, equalling their all-time best run recorded from 1935 to 1939, and kept a clean sheet for an 11th consecutive match to underline their credentials as potential tournament winners.

Pessina volleyed the dominant hosts in front at a lively Stadio Olimpico after 39 minutes as they put in an impressive display despite coach Roberto Mancini making eight changes to his starting line-up.

Wales’ task was made harder when defender Ethan Ampadu was sent off in the 56th minute for a stamp on Federico Bernardeschi’s ankle minutes after the Italian winger’s free-kick had struck the post.

Italy‘s relentless pressure continued as they pushed for a second, but Gareth Bale squandered a rare chance to earn Wales a draw when he volleyed over unmarked from 12 yards.

Italy will face the runners-up of Group C next in London on June 26, while Wales will take on the runners-up of Group B on the same day in Amsterdam.

With Italy already through to the knockout stages, Mancini made eight changes to his team, a joint record number for the Azzurri between games at a major tournament.

But the new-look Italy side appeared comfortable on a hot, muggy evening in Rome.

Andrea Belotti flashed a shot wide from a tight angle, Chris Gunter headed narrowly over from a corner for the Welsh and Federico Chiesa’s volley was deflected off the line during a frantic five-minute spell midway through the half.

Marco Verratti, making his first appearance at Euro 2020 after a lengthy injury lay-off, was influential in midfield and played a key role in the goal after 39 minutes as he won a free-kick on the right wing and swung it in to the near post for Pessina to finish.

It was Italy’s seventh goal of the tournament, matching their best-ever tally from the 1998 World Cup after three group stage matches at a major tournament.

Mancini’s side were inches away from a second early in the second half when Bernardeschi cannoned a free-kick off the foot of the post, and a few minutes later the Italy winger had his foot stamped on by Ampadu, leading to the defender’s dismissal.

Wales’ job got even harder when they were reduced to 10 men, and the Italian pressure continued as Belotti’s close-range shot was blocked by Danny Ward.

Wales had a golden chance to snatch a draw when a free-kick was headed into the path of the unmarked Bale in the area, but the skipper blasted his finish over the bar.

Mancini made sure to give all 11 of the players who started the last game at least some rest, as Leonardo Bonucci and Jorginho were replaced in the second half and even goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was taken off in the final minute of regulation time.

Match Preview: Bale dismisses Mancini’s Stoke comparison as Wales target Italy upset
20 June 2021, 2:15 PM

Wales captain Gareth Bale dismissed Italy coach Roberto Mancini’s comments likening the team to English club Stoke City and said they were ready to challenge them in Sunday’s European Championship meeting in Rome.

Mancini, who spent 3-1/2 years as Manchester City manager between 2009 and 2013, is fully aware of the physical demands of a trip to Stoke who were a top-flight team then.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, the Italian said Stoke had a very tough style of play and he expected a similar test from Wales, adding Bale’s side also possessed the technical skills to trouble his team.

Asked for his reaction to Mancini’s comments, Bale told a news conference: “I never knew Stoke were that good.”

Wales interim manager Robert Page said that he was not bothered by the comparison.

“We’re fully focused on what we can do and how we can hurt teams. As I’ve said, I couldn’t be more proud of that (squad of) 26 and I’ll back them every day of the week.”

Italy are through to the last 16 after two wins from as many games, while Wales are also unbeaten in Group A with four points ahead of the final round of matches.

“It’s going to be a big challenge. We have no doubt, even if that (unbeaten) record wasn’t there, Italy are a big footballing nation and always make games difficult,” Bale said.

“We’re under no illusions, it’s going to be a difficult game, but all we can do is plan, prepare and give it our all when we get on the pitch.

“… It’s difficult to say where the game would rank if we won but it would for sure be a proud moment for all of us. A great result for Wales and one we’re going to try and do.”

Wales will not be taking any half measures when they play Italy in their final European Championship group game and will look to beat the odds and seal all three points in Rome to top Group A, manager Rob Page said on Saturday.

Italy leads the group with a maximum of six points from two games while Wales are on four points after beating Turkey and drawing with Switzerland.

Wales will find beating the Azzurri at home on Sunday a Herculean task, however, with Roberto Mancini’s side having won their last 10 games without conceding a single goal.

“It’s a big challenge, they’re in great form. We’ve watched both games that they’ve played in the tournament so far and can’t be anything other than impressed by how they go about their work,” Page told reporters.

“It’s going to make for an entertaining game. We’re going to pick a team that will go out there and gives absolutely everything for Wales. We want to win the game and if we don’t finish top, we want second. We don’t want to limp across the line. We want to qualify in style and get where we deserve.”

Three Welsh players are on yellow cards – including defenders Ben Davies and Chris Mepham – and Page said he was wary of potentially losing players to suspensions ahead of the knockout stages.

“We’ve been here before in 2016 in the semi-finals and missed influential players and it’s affected them, that’s going to be in the thought process,” he added.

“But, like I said, more importantly, we’re playing against a very, very good Italian team that sometimes attack with seven players and defend with three. We’re going to have to take that into consideration.

“We have to suffer quite a bit without the ball. I think they’ve shown in the previous two games that they’re technically, absolutely very good.”

Aaron Ramsey has been a target of the Italian media this season for his performances, or lack of, with Juventus but Page said the midfielder was looking forward to the game after putting his injuries behind him.

“Aaron’s been outstanding. I’m really proud of him, for the shift he put in (against Turkey), tracking back and making tackles in the 18-yard box,” Page said.

“He’s got to another level for me, considering he’s not played as much as he would have liked. He’s come in and we’ve got into a level of fitness where he has performed physically and tactically.”

Match Preview: Swiss must forget Italian disappointment if they are to advance
20 June 2021, 2:03 PM

Switzerland must shake off the disappointment of a mauling by Italy in their last European Championship game if they are to beat Turkey in Baku on Sunday and avoid elimination, warned coach Vladimir Petkovic.

Their last game in Group A is a must-win affair for both and comes on the back of a 3-0 loss in Rome on Wednesday that has caused soul-searching for the Swiss.

“The most important thing tomorrow will be to get stuck into the game, better than in the last one,” said Petkovic at Saturday’s pre-match news conference.

The Swiss were overrun by Italy and had also looked uninspired in their opening game against Wales, a 1-1 draw in Baku last weekend.

“We need to give everything and influence whatever we can influence. We must find our values, our connections between the parts of the team and then, most importantly, just give it our all. The 3-0 scoreline was enough of a suffering but that was against a very strong opponent and maybe that influenced a few things that we did not do well, but that’s in the past. We cannot do anything about it now. We have to focus on what we can influence now.”

Switzerland will have first choice goalkeeper Yann Sommer back after he left the squad for the birth of his second child. He flew after the match in Rome to Cologne and returned to the Swiss squad on Friday.

He missed the birth. “But I still got to spend a day with my family and met my second daughter,” he said.

Opponents Turkey go into the match on the back of two defeats in the tournament.

Turkey are hoping for a miracle in their final group game at Euro 2020, against Switzerland on Sunday, after losing their first two matches without scoring, coach Senol Gunes said.

“We are struggling to achieve a miracle now, and it is with a heavy heart we are leaving,” Gunes told a news conference on Saturday.
Defender Caglar Soyuncu said the team were determined to fight for a win against Switzerland at Baku’s Olympic Stadium.

“We are devastated to be in this situation. Even if it doesn’t save us from going home, we will get the win in our last game against Switzerland,” the Leicester City player said.

Turkey conceded five goals in their defeats by Italy and Wales in Group A.

“As a defender it’s a big disappointment to concede five goals. We want to make the right self-criticism and go on. It’s our last chance tomorrow and we are really excited about it,” Soyuncu said.

Third-placed Switzerland will also be determined to get a big win that could give them a chance of overtaking Wales, who play group leaders Italy on Sunday, and getting to the last 16.

Gunes said his team had not met expectations but Turkey still had young players who would form the backbone of the national side for a decade.

“To our young team, the defeat against Italy in our opening game, it felt like the end of the world,” Gunes said.

“However, it doesn’t matter we had bad results in this tournament, because these young men are the future of this country.”

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