Coach Roberto Mancini has been saying for weeks that all 26 members of his Italy squad are starters – and after the way they beat Wales 1-0 despite making eight changes to his starting line-up at the European Championship, it’s hard to argue with him.
A victory for Mancini’s second-stringers on Sunday extended Italy’s unbeaten streak to 30 matches – matching a national record – after Matteo Pessina’s goal late in the first half, when he redirected a free kick neatly from Marco Verratti, proved enough to seal victory.
Wales defender Ethan Ampadu was sent off with a questionable straight red card at the Stadio Olimpico for stepping on Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes into the second half.
Italy, who won their opening two matches 3-0, finished Group A with a perfect nine points, while Wales will also progress, having finished second on four points.
Chasing only their second European title, Italy will play the second-placed team from Group C at Wembley next Saturday, while Wales will play the second-placed team from Group B in Amsterdam.
The Azzurri, who have now won 11 straight games without conceding, won 30 straight under coaching great Vittorio Pozzo from 1935-39 with a team that had just won a second consecutive World Cup.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for this Italy squad, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
On a warm and humid evening, Italy controlled from the start and Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa both came close to scoring before Pessina put the Azzurri ahead.
Verratti earned a foul that set up a free kick on the right flank and then whipped in a low cross that Pessina flicked into the far corner with his back to the goal.
Atalanta’s Pessina was a late call up to Italy’s squad following an injury to Stefano Sensi, earning the spot by scoring his first two goals for the national team in a Championship warm-up against San Marino.
Minutes after his goal, Pessina had another chance but poked the ball just wide.
Wales’ best chance of the half came with a header from Chris Gunter that narrowly missed the top corner.
Italy continued to pour forward after the break and Bernardeschi banged a free kick off the post.
By the final whistle, Italy had no starters from their opening two matches left on the field, with even goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma replaced by Salvatore Sirigu in the closing minutes.