Italy vs Wales | Sunday 17th June 2020, 17:00 | ITV
Arguably the tournament's most impressive side Italy complete their Group A campaign by hosting a Wales side who are all but guaranteed a place in joining their hosts in the round of 16, however talk of a ‘Biscotto’ (a term used when there are two teams that have the same goal and the result would allow them to both go through) have already been dismissed by Roberto Mancini.
The Azzurri have gone 29 games unbeaten, just one game short of their all-time record and know a draw or better in Rome will guarantee top spot progress to a Wembley date with the runners-up in Group C, most likely the dangerous Ukraine.
Heartening news for Italy backers – of which, as you are soon to read, I am one – Mancini is in bullish mood, stating “We will go wherever we need to in the draw. We’re not really bothered by which team we come against. If we go to Amsterdam because we finish runners-up so be it. If we win the group so much the better. Our target is to win the match.”
There appears no danger of underestimating the Welsh who he described as a “very difficult side to face, they are a British team so they have a lot of physicality and it will be a difficult match” also siting that “they have been right up there in the FIFA world rankings for a number of years, that shows they have quality players.”
A runners-up spot would see a clash with one of Russia, Finland or Denmark – all arguably easier assignments than meeting Andriy Shevchenko’s vibrant side in London, however with that unbeaten record in sight plus surely wanting to carry the current momentum into the knock out stages, I can’t see against a win for the home side here.
Although not officially a dead rubber we should expect to see both managers rotating their sides with Italian captain Giorgio Chiellini unlikely to be risked due to his flexor problem which forced him off in the win against the Swiss and influential PSG midfielder Marco Verratti needing some tournament minutes after recovering from his own injury lay off – while the likes of Andrea Bellotti, Matteo Pessina, Francesco Acerbi and Federico Chiesa will all be hoping for a starting berth.
For Robert Page there must be a temptation to rest some key personnel who have served him so well over the opening two fixtures – but are known to be at risk of picking up injury – namely Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, while target man Kieffer Moore has taken a fair battering so far, we could even see Wales revert to a back five here.
Unlike their hosts they will have also had to endure a five-hour flight from Azerbaijan, across two time zones to make the trip to Rome.
If there is rotation then unquestionably the Italians have the greater squad depth but equally as a side coming in to this off the back of 10 successive wins if there is only one or two changes, I can only see them adding another W to the record.
Incredibly all ten of those wins came “to nil” and were by two or more goals so covering the –1 handicap on each occasion.
With expected changes in personnel and with Chiellini almost certainly missing from the back line coupled with how dangerous Wales looked on the break in the 2-0 win over Turkey I prefer the –1 handicap at odds of 8/5 with Paddy Power, which are also better then backing the Italian win to nil at a best priced 11/10.
With the possibility of a nothing to lose attitude from both sides here, having also seen the lethal threat of the Azzurri in full flight recording back-to-back 3-0 victories in the process and that Italy, now trimmed in to 13/2 third favouritres after unconvincing recent performances from England, France, Portugal and Spain, may want to send out another statement result, I do feel there is also some value in the over 2.5 goals market with Sky Bet at odds of 5/4.
Following a slightly fortunate point against the Swiss, the Dragons were excellent against a disappointing and still pointless Turkish outfit and really should have won by more with a couple of big misses by Ramsey and a ballooned spot kick from Bale.
One area where Turkey did cause problems, just like Switzerland before them, was from set pieces – with Swiss centre backs Fabian Schär (2) and Manuel Akanji (1) having three attempts at goal from corners while Turkish pairing Çaglar Söyüncü (1) and Kaan Ayhan (2) plus substitute defender Merih Demiral (1) went one better – which could have these Italian defenders licking their lips at the thought of getting on the international scoresheet.
Chiellini would have been an obvious choice given his VAR disallowed strike in midweek – however assuming he will be absent I took a look at who else could cause Danny Ward and his defenders headaches aerially.
Looking at the WhoScored.com expected line up we see a predicted pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi, who replaced the injured Chiellini on Wednesday – so I took a closer look at their stats for the Serie A season just gone.
Acerbi won 62 aerial duals throughout the whole campaign, the sixth highest of any Italian with the Juventus centre back down in 31st having won just over half that amount, 34.
However, the 34-year-old veteran does have the edge when it comes to shooting, ranking as the fifth highest Italian defender in the league for number of shots, firing in 16 over the course of his 26 appearances, with Acerbi down in 24th position.
With Paddy Power offering both players at 5/1 for a shot on target of any description (Sky offer 7/2, William Hill 14/5) Banucci looks the wiser option given the attacking stats, even finding the net twice for his club and also having two attempts in the Euro 2020 curtain raiser including a long-range effort giving the bonus we aren’t solely dependent on set pieces if he is in the mood!
As a long shot of my own I am also having some loose euros on both men to have at least one shot on target via Paddy Power’s Bet Builder at 45/1.
Italy vs Wales – Italy –1 (8/5 Paddy Power)
Italy vs Wales – Over 2.5 Goals (5/4 SkyBet)
Italy vs Wales – Leonardo Bonucci to have 1 or more shots on target (5/1 Paddy Power)
Italy vs Wales – Leonardo Bonucci and Francesco Acerbi both to have 1 or more shots on target (45/1 Paddy Power)