A horrific 2020 for Vladimir Petkovic saw his side win no games – indeed, their only victory was a walkover awarded against Ukraine.
But then until the start of this tournament, they had tasted sunnier results. Wins against Bulgaria and the USMNT were the pick of the bunch – but this may be their toughest test yet, given what is at stake.
Until Euro 2020 got underway, Senol Gunes’ side were unbeaten in 2021. Two defeats by a combined five-goal margin has put paid to their fine form – and leaves them facing an uphill climb today. They will need a drastic turnaround in fortunes.
Can Bale deliver captain’s knock?
Form Guide: Italy v Wales
So then, the simple maths. Italy haven’t lost a game since 2018, embarking on a near-three-year-run with no defeats to their name. Their defence has done wonders too – they haven’t conceded since a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands in October.
Wales are no slouches themselves however, with just three losses since the start of 2020 – against England, Belgium and France respectively. They’ve mounted victories over the Czech Republic and Mexico too.
The hosts are two from two at Euro 2020, and would love to make it three from three. Their visitors however know that victory could vault them to the summit of Group A and had them a potentially favourable draw. It’s set up very nicely.
Can Ramsey prove Juve naysayers wrong?
There was not-inconsiderable fanfare when Aaron Ramsey left the Premier League to join Juventus. There was undoubtedly a touch of misty-eyed history to it; the Welshman, following in the footsteps of the legendary John Charles, half-a-century-plus on.
While he has indeed emulated the legendary Swansea-born forward in winning a Serie A title, his wider effect has not been remotely what was hoped for him by the Bianconeri, nagged by injuries – and now they are out to sell him on.
Mancini: Wales are like Stoke
So, can the Azzurri do it against a side their manager has likened to one of British football’s great cult clubs?
The phrase “can they do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke?” has entered the sporting lexicon to such an extent that it is hardly surprising when it pops up on the world stage – and given his Premier League grounding, Roberto Mancini may know more than most when comparing Wales’ physical threat to that of Stoke City.
The Italy boss namechecked the Potters in his pre-match press conference – and you can read about what he had to say right here.
A box-office bonanza to come?
No Turkish delight… so far
Ah, the weight of expectations. Surely, when you were chatting with your friends before Euro 2020 got underway, one of them ventured that Turkey were the dark horses of the competition, a potential wrinkle in Italy’s plans to come through Group A without a problem.
Well, it’s been more misery than magic for the once-supposed stallions of the Crescent-Stars – yet, remarkably, they are not out of this race yet.
Victory in Baku against Switzerland would hoist them to third – and if they can notch up a not inconsiderable margin of victory too, they may stand a chance of an unlikely knockout stage berth. Senol Gunes has his work cut out – but the dream, for now, remains there for the taking.
Will cheesed-off Swiss snatch second?
They’ll need to mount a convincing defeat of Turkey in the hotbed of Baku and hope that Italy’s much-changed side can do them a favour, but Switzerland may feel they have a point to prove after their first two games.
Nominally seeded second as a qualification group winner, they have underperformed so far, pegged back by a late Wales goal and then given a rough ride by the Azzurri.
If Vladimir Petkovic catches a glance of Mancini’s changes, he may feel quite aggrieved – but it will surely only fuel a side determined to prove themselves to stay firmly in the race for the last-16.
A Change Is Gonna Come
Mancini opts for risk-free run-out
With their last-16 place wrapped up last time out, it isn’t too surprising that Roberto Mancini has opted to let several of Italy’s proverbial second-stringers have a chance to start in a major tournament.
Giorgio Chiellini’s first-half injury last time out obviously makes for an enforced change, but outside of Leonardo Bonucci, only Chelsea midfielder Jorginho and goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma have kept their spot, ensuring that several major talents remain injury-free heading to the knockout rounds.
Make no mistake, this is still an Italy side capable of finding a result – but could Wales have enough nous in the bag to end the Azzurri’s near-three-year unbeaten run in Rome today? They’ll certainly fancy themselves against that lineup.
Resurgent Wales dream of Euro 2016 repeat
Mention the words Euro 2016 anywhere across the United Kingdom, and two flashpoints spring to mind. One is England’s abject humiliation – draws with Russia and Slovakia in the group stage and a last-16 exit to Iceland.
The other is of Wales’ triumphant march to the semi-finals, much unfancied underdogs guided by an indomitable spirit under Chris Coleman, beating off Northern Ireland and Belgium on the way to a valiant exit against Portugal.
Five years on, and Rob Page’s side can dream of another knockout run this time around. The faces may have changed in part, but guiding figures – Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey – remain. A draw is all they need to guarantee it today.
Lineups: Switzerland v Turkey
Lineups: Italy v Wales
The countdown is on
Team News: Switzerland v Turkey
Shaqiri keeps spot, Muldur and Can in
Liverpool attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri has kept his spot in an apparent 3-4-1-2 formation for today’s nominal home side, as Vladimir Petkovic makes only minor changes to the side routed by Italy, with Silvan Widmer and Steven Zuber both drafted in.
Mert Muldur is among the new faces for Senol Gunes, handed the nod at left-back, while Kaan Ayhan moves up from centre-back to fill the defensive midfield role.
Will those gambles work out for a side who must win to keep any tournament hopes alive?
Team News: Italy v Wales
Hosts change eight, visitors rest three
Early team news for one of those games now, and it is a series of wholesale changes from Italy manager Roberto Mancini.
The former Manchester City boss vowed he would make the swaps and he has done so, with Leonardo Bonnucci just one of three players to remain from the side that beat Switzerland.
Wales meanwhile have opted to make a trio of swaps, resting Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore – players all a booking away from a suspension. Neco Williams, Chris Gunter and Ethan Ampadu all come in.
Twisty tiebreakers set to play a part?
Victory for Turkey, in a stadium where they are likely to hold something of a partisan advantage given their close links with Azerbaijan, would be enough to see them finish third, though they can go no higher.
Switzerland, on the other hand, know that a draw would see them come third in Group A – but that their haul of two points would leave them very much an outside bet to succeed in the third-place rankings.
A win would put them on four points, and this is where it could get a little mathematical. If Wales lose in Rome, both sides would be level on four points – and a number of tiebreakers, from goals scored to disciplinary points accumulated, may be needed to split the pair for second place.
What’s the breakdown?
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Italy are safe and sound in the mix for the next round, an imperious six-goal streak across two games setting them out as arguably the form side of the tournament so far. They have six points.
Two behind them on four are today’s opponents Wales. Given that a four-point haul is likely enough to see them through on third-place rankings come Wednesday, they may be safe already.
But in simple mathematical terms, a draw for them in Rome takes them to five – a total neither Switzerland with a solitary point, nor Turkey with zero to show so far, can catch regardless of their own result in Baku at the same time.
Today’s order of play
While tomorrow and Wednesday will provide quadruple delights with eight sides across two groups set to duke it out each day, it’s a one-pot affair only to get us underway – but what an intriguing foursome it is.
It’s Group A, where part-hosts Italy have already booked their spot in the last-16, and where Wales, Switzerland and Turkey all remain in with a shout of joining them.
Two titanic ties await, and for a spot of double jeopardy, both will kick off simultaneously. That means, live from the Olympic Stadium in Baku, and Stadio Olimpico in Rome, it’s:
Switzerland v Turkey (1700)
Italy v Wales (1700)
(All times BST)
🎉 ⚽️ Welcome to Goal Matchday Live! ⚽️ 🎉
Hello and welcome to Goal’s live matchday coverage of Euro 2020!
Are you sitting comfortably? Good – because it’s about to get a whole lot hotter for the two-dozen teams that make up the final round of the tournament’s group stage.
Over the next four days, the best – or at least, two-thirds – will be separated from the rest as nations battle out for a spot in the knockout rounds – and by the end of Wednesday night, we’ll know just who is still on the road to Wembley.
This isn’t quite yet the back end of the matinee season – but for eight sides, it will be an early curtain call that beckons over the coming week.