Monday, August 2

Velvety Verratti adds a dash of magic to make Italy the team to fear | Welsh

WEll, that was tense. More or less. On a grueling afternoon in Rome, Wales qualified for the knockout stages of Euro 2020. Thanks to the vagaries of the format, they did so through a shifting fog of near-drama, a whirlwind of semi-excitement, just like Group A He went out of his way to conjure up some genuine tension in UEFA’s own final round from a € 24 team.

Not that anyone in red cared. Now it’s two out of two for Wales: two European Championships and two knockout races, a wonderful achievement for this generation of brilliantly likeable high-level players and interim coach Robert Page.

Italy was always out of reach here. But Wales showed marvelous defensive concentration to contain the outstanding team from this group stage and stayed within a Gareth Bale volley to level the score. They will be daunting opponents at the end of this tournament.

Beyond that, three things were clear in Rome. First, this is not a drill. Roberto Mancini’s tremendously intense Azzurri are real. Italy pushes and moves very well, a collection of parts synchronized across the field. But they also feel a kind of anger towards them. Sometimes this team from Italy looks like they want to gnaw on your arm. To baffle your sides with a neat and super slick swap along an overloaded inner channel. But bite your arm while they do it.

They are also in a rare light period. The victory here meant that Mancini’s iteration has equaled Italy’s 30-game unbeaten streak established nearly a century ago. At 35 minutes they passed 1,000 without conceding a goal.

Watching this game, he wondered where it could end. Will Italy concede a goal again? Does this have to happen? Who says? Then there was Marco Verratti, one of the world-class footballers with a more understated velvety touch, who mastered this game stealthily, as he does so often. Mancini made eight changes for this game, a revolution that felt less significant given the sense of unity in this group. Swap the parts, swap the players – you still have the same fluid, mixed-up substance that is Mancini’s Italy.

The key audition for the challenges ahead was Verratti’s return from injury for his 41st international match. He is a rare player from Italy, a once-in-a-lifetime prodigy, an academy favorite, who has spent most of his mature career in Paris. At 28 now, and back to the rhythm of Rome, he provides another, deeper cog in this system.

There was something a bit Pax Romana in the opening exchanges, as Wales again fell into a deep red double ray. But Verratti was already pulling on the hinges. He danced, entertained himself and sparkled, a footballer who has no fear in possession, with a way of moving his foot over the ball, like a street magician who challenges you to follow the coin under the cup.

It was a clever free-kick from Verratti in the 38th minute that scored the only goal of the game. He first fell under an elbow in a tempting spot to the right. Verratti hit the free kick, launching a clever low cross as Wales prepared for the expected aerial bombardment. Matteo Pessina was ready, snaking down the front of the defense and tickling the ball as it made its way past Danny Ward’s shaking hand.

And Verratti was everywhere in this game. In the end, he had touched the ball 136 times, completed 94% of his passes, created the goal, threw shots, dribbles, tackles, headers, and had taken the whole show out of his role as a wandering, spinning semi-free in the heart of the game. basketball court. midfield.

Mancini may or may not keep his busy art for the more daunting tests to come. But this team now has a wonderful note of variation.

Finally, we saw the inherent failure of this format in the final match round. Why play so many games to get rid of so few teams? Sad to see those chills of genuine sporty cut and thrust overlooked, the robust competition you might have had if the first two were the only two that went through here.

Perhaps all four teams could qualify next time, or the groups will split into a series of displays: “classic rivalries,” eastern Europeans running hard, a group of legends where Michael Owen and Dean Saunders meet in quarters of seven. minutes.

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The point, of course, is revenue: more product, more attraction with politicians so desperate to see their nations as part of marketing success. Money doesn’t ruin everything in sport. But we can be sure that you are doing the best you can.

In any case, the result was correct. Wales is moving forward with confidence and great credit. The only sad note was Ethan Ampadu’s red card for stepping on Federico Bernardeschi’s toe – correct by Uefa guidelines, but still annoyingly mild for an everyday type of collision.

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