Matteo Pessina was the hero as Italy made it three wins for their efforts in Group A after they saw off ten-man Wales in Rome – with Roberto Mancini’s men setting a European Championships record en route to the knockout stages.

Italy had been cast into the somewhat unfamiliar role of dark horses ahead of the start of the tournament but now, three games deep, the Azzurri are looking every inch champions-in-waiting.

Atalanta playmaker Pessina was the Italian hero as he prodded home a first-half Marco Veratti free kick to give his side what turned out to be an unassailable advantage against the Welsh, who struggled to compete with the Italians’ grinding, oppressive display.

Italy’s job was made easier when Wales’ Ethan Ampadu was issued with his marching orders 10 minutes after half-time (to his great surprise, it must be noted) for stamping on Federico Bernardeschi’s left foot.

Gareth Bale uncharacteristically spurned a gilt-edged chance to level the game in the second half, but that was about as much resistance as the Welsh could muster in 90 minutes.

Incredibly, according to the statisticians Italy now become the first team in European Championship history to have emerged from the group stages with three wins and no goals conceded – while also tying the national team’s almost 90-year old record for 30 games undefeated.

Despite their impressive form in qualifying, few pundits had plumped for the Italians when forecasting this tournament’s eventual winners – with most opting for one of France, Portugal or Germany – but each of those sides have so far displayed something of a soft underbelly.

Not so Italy. While previous Italian sides could boast a Baggio (or two), a Pirlo, a Maldini or even a Del Piero, the 2021 iteration of the Azzurri seems greater than the sum of its parts, formed as ever on a solid steel backline.

Tougher tests will await in this tournament but with Italy likely facing one of Austria or Ukraine when we move into knockout football, one can likely expect that this Italian side won’t be requiring an early plane ticket home.

Despite the defeat, Wales also punched their ticket into the round of 16 after Switzerland’s 3-1 humbling of Turkey wasn’t enough to overcome Wales’ superior goal difference.

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