Back-to-back 3-0 wins over Turkey and Switzerland earlier in the competition afforded Roberto Mancini the luxury of making changes for the visit of the Welsh to the Stadio Olimpico, and it was the incoming Matteo Pessina that netted the only goal to earn maximum points in the Group Stage.
The Azzurri wait to find out their opponents in the knockout stages but after a perfect record in the first phase, confidence is high.
Italy make history
Beyond earning three points and securing first place, the victory over Wales was also significant in Italy’s history as they extended their unbeaten run to an incredible 30 matches.
Having suffered the indignation of missing out on the World Cup three years ago, the appointment of Mancini has allowed the Azzurri to quietly rebuild under the radar and this has borne fruit, with a 1-0 UEFA Nations League loss to Portugal in September 2018 the last time the national team tasted defeat.
The win over Wales saw Mancini’s side equal the streak set by the iconic Vittorio Pozzo between 1935 and 1939, which saw Italy lift the World Cup, and the current coach will be hoping to land further silverware with his crop of stars.
Similarly, Italy have now kept 11 successive clean sheets and look impregnable at the back, whilst maintaining a threat at the other end of the pitch. It is the perfect combination for success at a major tournament.
Squad depth shows Italy’s threat
The magnificent victories over Turkey and Switzerland afforded Mancini the luxury of resting some of his key players for the visit of the Welsh, with Ciro Immobile, Manuel Locatelli, Nicolo Barella, and Leonardo Spinazzola all given a break.
In came the likes of Pessina, Rafael Toloi, Emerson, and Andrea Belotti, and the Azzurri hardly skipped a beat. The back-up group came into the side without Italy looking disjointed, whilst the match at the Stadio Olimpico allowed Marco Verratti to mark his return from injury with a wonderful performance in midfield.
Across a tournament played after a condensed season, the opportunity to rest players could prove decisive later down the line, whilst Mancini can be assured that anyone in his squad can step up and deliver when called upon.
After a week in which France, Germany, Portugal, England, and Spain all stuttered, the Azzurri are emerging as the team to beat ahead of the knockout rounds.