Wales can dream of Euro 2016 repeat – but need Bale to be spot-on
Switzerland hit the post and Andrea Belotti forced Danny Ward into an important save after Gareth Bale had skied his unmarked volley over the bar. The Wales captain looked certain to grab a draw in Rome for his 10-man team when the ball fell kindly for a left-foot strike. But, like with his penalty miss against Turkey, he got it badly wrong. It could have been a costly error.
But that Swiss miss and Ward’s sharp stop prevented Wales from surrendering their goal difference advantage and they battled hard in the heat to ensure a second-place finish in Group A – and a Saturday night in Amsterdam.
The party there will not be quite what it could have been, given the travel restrictions Welsh fans are facing, but, wherever they are watching, they can now start to plot a path through this tournament that would emulate the class of 2016.
Russia or Denmark are the likely last-16 opponents, unless Finland can get a result off Belgium, and then it would be back to Baku to potentially face the Netherlands. That city was a happy hunting ground for Rob Page’s players in the group stage – and Wembley, the semi-finals and the chance to match the legends of Euro 2016 will be beckoning by then. It’s not impossible.
But while Wales have shown in this tournament they have a strong supporting cast – stronger than 2016? – they need their star man to step forward this weekend. Bale has shown moments of brilliance, particularly with his assists against Turkey, but his country needs him to be near-perfect in the knockouts to realise the dream. It’s a challenge he will relish.
Italy strengthen their reputation as potential Euro 2020 winners
Roberto Mancini made eight changes to his Italy team against Wales but the replacements looked just as impressive in the Rome sunshine. The Azzurri have taken this tournament by storm – and on Sunday they showed they have the strength in depth required to go deep into the knockout rounds.
Fit-again Marco Verratti put in a performance of real class, pulling the strings in midfield, and will be a real asset in the next round, while Federico Bernardeschi, Matteo Pessina, Federico Chiesa, and Alessandro Bastoni all came in and caught the eye.
After seeing off Wales and topping Group A, Italy’s players celebrated in style in front of their home fans. It is a shame they are saying ciao to Rome, with their knockout path taking them to London and Munich. The Olimpico Stadium has been the perfect launchpad for this talented group.
But they are 30 unbeaten now – a joint-Italian record – and full of confidence. They will not fear anyone, anywhere. With options all over the pitch, Mancini’s trickiest task may be narrowing his squad down to a matchday eleven.
Swiss and Shaqiri tricky potential last-16 opponents
In the end, Switzerland just had too much to do as they looked to overhaul Wales and reach the last 16 with a top-two finish in Group A.
They finished two goals shy of Wales despite an impressive 3-1 victory against Turkey and Rob Page’s side’s 1-0 defeat in Rome.
However, with a third-placed finish and a tally of four points , Vladimir Petkovic’s side still have high hopes of reaching the last 16 as one of the four best third-place finishers, and should they do that, they will be a tricky test for someone in the last 16.
Should they reach the knockout stages, their opponents will have to keep a close eye on Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri.
Shaqiri has scored in the last four major tournaments and is now Switzerland’s outright top goalscorer at major tournaments, with his second goal this evening his seventh for his country at either the World Cup (4) or European Championships (3).
He was a constant thorn in the side of Turkey, controlling the game and scoring two fine goals to inspire his side to victory, and whoever Switzerland may come up against will have to pay close attention to him.
Podcast: A Scottish night to savour – but what’s up with Harry Kane?
Twenty five years on from their last tournament meeting, Scotland sprung an upset of sorts with an encouraging 0-0 draw against England that keeps their Euro 2020 hopes alive. Alice Piper is joined by Luke Shanley, Jess Creighton and Peter Smith to examine exactly where Scotland got it right, before conducting the inquest into England’s toothless display.
It was a Wembley performance for Scotland to savour as Steve Clarke’s selection earns alibis from supporters and lays the foundation for Tuesday’s “must-win” showdown with Croatia. But what’s gone wrong with Harry Kane? Will Gareth Southgate drop his captain against the Czech Republic? Is it time for Jack Grealish?
We also hear from Sky Sports News reporter Geraint Hughes to reflect on Wales‘ triumph over Turkey in Baku before looking ahead to Sunday’s final group game against Italy in Rome.
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