Monday, June 21, 2021

Euro 2020 Day 10: The Italian Song Goes On Fireworks in Baku

Italy 1:0 Wales, Rome

Gli Azzurri are genuine contenders having beaten and outplayed a fired-up Wales.

Roberto Mancini had made eight changes but you would not have known it as his team's approach play and variety of passing in the last third was still top drawer. 

Matteo Pessina's deft touch from Marco Verratti's free kick was the only goal but Italy breached the Welsh defence many times. Federico Chiesa was a particular menace from the right wing.

Wales came in hope but left humbled. Their team's speedsters Gareth Bale and Daniel James were well shackled. James was subbed in the last quarter of the match and Bale missed a great chance to equalise, volleying over unmarked with 15 minutes to go.

Italy 1:0 Wales, Rome

A red card for Ethan Ampadu took everyone by surprise but replays of the 20 year old's studs on Federico Bernadeschi's ankle confirmed the referee had no choice, although a near-identical tackle by James on Verratti before the break went unpunished.

Cymru left happy however, with second place guaranteed by a better goal difference than Switzerland. They move on to Amsterdam on Saturday, while Italy fly to London to play the second in group C.

Gli Azzurri bade addio to the Stadio Olimpico, where they took nine points out of nine and scored seven goals without reply. The collective joy on the squad's face showed the wonderful time all Italy has enjoyed at Euro 2020 in Rome.

Italy and Wales share the same flag colours and face each other annually at rugby, but at football they have long been poles apart.

I was there in 2002 when Wales recorded a rare competitive victory over the Azzurri, 2-1 at the Millennium Stadium, before Italy trounced them 4-0 in the return at San Siro. 

Before the Cardiff encounter, John Charles, two years before his death, saluted the stadium. The Gentle Giant, a Leeds and Juventus legend, had been top scorer in both Serie A and the English first division in the 1950s.

Ian Rush, another ex-Juve Welshman, was in the stands at the Olimpico tonight.

Turkey 1:3 Switzerland, Baku

A match of spectacular long range shots, saves and goals. 41 shots were taken as both sides threw caution to the wind.

Turkey started like the Orient Express but were derailed by Haris Serferovic's sixth minute opportune strike. Twenty minutes later Xherdan Shaqiri matched his teammate with an equally spectacular effort. 2-0 to the Swiss. 

Shaqiri struck again in the 68th minute, six minutes after Turkey's only tournament goal, from Irfan Kahveci.

The Swiss wizard is at times reminiscent of the best pocket battleships like Gheorghe Hagi, at other times marked out the game and unable to make inroads. Clearly blessed with attacking spice, he should have been one of the best players in the world, but will never be except in fits and starts.

Swiss on a roll

He has made only 45 appearances for Liverpool since 2018, nine years ago was at Bayern and had a spell at Inter too, so perhaps his shot at immortality is over, but at least tonight, age 29, the Alpine Messi was at the peak of his powers, deadly and breathtaking.

Goalkeeper Jan Sommer was also a hero for Switzerland, deflecting a number of Turkish rockets and denying Mert Muldur in particular from finishing off an amazing long run with a wonder goal.

The Swiss must wait to know their fate but after a salvo worthy of Roy of the Rovers, only a cruel god of football would deny them a place in the last 16.

But the Turks are out after three defeats and must turn their attentions to Qatar 2022, where they currently lead group G ahead of the Netherlands.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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