The Azzurri have maintained a perfect record in the group stages of the ongoing tournament.

Italy maintained a perfect record heading into the knockout stages of the Euro 2020 as they beat Wales on Sunday. The victory also meant that the Azzurri have now equaled their national record of remaining 30 games unbeaten.

A win for Wales could have seen them finish ahead of Italy. However, a dominant performance from Roberto Mancini’s side made sure that no such scenario would arise.

A well-worked set-piece saw Matteo Pessina score the only goal of the game with a clever flick after a near-post run. It was a dream come true for the Atlanta midfielder, who was a late inclusion into the squad after Inter Milan’s Stefano Sensi withdrew due to injury. Here are five key highlights from Italy’s 1-0 win over Wales.

5. Roberto Mancini’s selection headache

Marco Verratti cut a relaxed figure as he spoke to a reporter after yet another comfortable victory. The Italian midfielder spoke about his happiness to have made his first appearance in the Euro 2020. After an injury earlier in June, there were doubts about whether Verratti would feature for Italy at all. However, he put all rumours to bed with an imposing performance against a stubborn Welsh side.

In Verratti’s absence, it was Manuel Locatelli who shined for the Italy in the first two games. The young midfielder impressed on his debut against Turkey in the campaign opener and went onto score a brace against Switzerland in the next game. 

Roberto Mancini now has a massive selection dilemma upon his head. With Jorginho integral to Italy’s playing style and Nico Barella a different profile of a midfielder, Veratti and Locatelli find themselves in a bit of pickle. It will be interesting to see, who gets the nod in the first knockout round.

4. An astonishing defensive record

11 matches played, 32 goals scored, 0 conceded. The record makes one wonder why Italy did not gain as much traction prior to the Euros. Averaging at almost three goals in every game, this Italian side is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

However, what is even more impressive is the defensive numbers produced by this team. Italy boasts three clean sheets in a row in the group stages of Euro 2020. In those three games, Italy have contended the xG at 1.2 against themselves.

3. Italy’s new flamboyant attacking identity

The foundation of Italy’s squads have relied on defensive solidity for decades now. Their reputation of defending in numbers and securing narrow, yet decisive wins have always been the norm.

In the modern era of possession-based football, high pressing and attacking full-backs, Italy have adjusted well. They are playing an attractive style of football. At the same time, Mancini has also withheld the principles of Italian football. Defensive solidity is something Italians take pride in and it rubs off on the defenders the country keeps producing.

Italy’s defensive record speaks for itself. Their art of playing an attacking brand of football while being secure is something Italy seems to have mastered. It is very much due to this new style of play that players from teams like Atalanta, Napoli and Lazio dominate the national side.

2. Wales’ pragmatic approach

This is only the second time Wales are making an appearance at the Euro finals. They were the surprise package of the 2016 edition as they reached the semi-finals in what proved to be a dream campaign. 

This time around, however, the story seems to be a little different. Despite the introduction of several young talents, Wales looks older on the pitch and seems to lack tenacity.

Wales’ Euro 2020 campaign began against Switzerland in a game where they were lucky to get a point. They took more responsibility to make things happen in the game against Turkey. However, returned to their pragmatic ways in a narrow defeat against Italy.

It will be interesting to see how far this hardworking Wales side can progress in the tournament. Italy will face one of Ukraine or Austria in the next round. While Wales will play the second-placed team from a tightly contested group B.

1. Italy’s impressive squad depth

Italy’s 26-man squad boasts of some extraordinary talents. In Italy’s final group game against Wales, Mancini rotated the side heavily and made eight changes to the playing XI. But Italy’s control over the game and its proceedings never came at risk.

Federico Chiesa has been one of Juventus’ best players this season and is a great option as a sub. Andrea Belotti and Bernardeschi, too, provide value off the bench. We have already spoken about the immense amount of midfield talent available on Italy’s bench. It is astounding that this talent is available to Mancini despite injuries to Nicolo Zaniolo or Lorenzo Pellegrini.

Italy’s veteran centre-back pairing of Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini casts doubt over their chances in the competition. However, after full starts to Rafael Toloi, Alessandro Bastoni and Emerson against Wales, Italy’s defensive contingent seems extremely dependable. Bastoni, Toloi and Acerbi are coming off an impressive domestic season and their contribution will be crucial going forward.

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