Wales fight despite defeat and silly format

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This is not a new or original finding, but this 24-team Euro format really killed the tension in the group stage.

It could have been an epic evening of jagged nerves, joy and despair as Wales clung to second place despite attacking a very impressive Italian side while Switzerland sets out to put Turkey’s fallen black horses out of their misery.

As it stands, with Wales deservedly qualifying after what will be one of the most impressive 1-0 defeats you’ll ever see, Switzerland’s initial disappointment is almost entirely tempered by the fact that they’ll almost certainly be in the bottom 16 anyway as one of the top third place teams.

This is Italy’s credit, the little tension the format allowed was maintained until the final whistle as they embarked on an aggressive, concerted and relentless pursuit of a second. a goal that meant nothing to them but could have sent the sweetest of shock waves through the rest of the group. Same substitute goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma late for the pure lols of it didn’t sound like any disrespect or showed a lack of focus.

It was only one of the many indicators of the current place of this Italian team. It is a very happy place. They are a fantastic team who play atypical, fun and progressive football without ever losing the defensive reliability for which they are more widely known. This has now been 10 straight wins without concessions and 32 goals scored since the last against.

That they made eight changes to the starting XI without ever missing a beat is a raised eyebrow. The style and urgency and above all the quality of their football have never diminished and, thanks to the fraud of France so ruthlessly denounced by Hungary, Italy is now without doubt the team to beat.

Which is extremely encouraging news for Wales. They were outplayed and outmatched here before even dropping to 10 men after a classic ‘orange card’ tackle from Ethan Ampadu found a ruthless-tempered umpire. Losing this game just 1-0 was a fine result and still likely to secure second place despite Switzerland’s best efforts.

The move to a trio didn’t quite work out for Wales, but any comparison between this game and their performances in the first two games is largely questionable. The impact of a change in formation was much less than that of a change in opposition. In case we are not clear: Italy is really very good.

And while the third-place safety net removed much of the potential afternoon danger, second-place isn’t an insignificant prize for Rob Page’s side. While Switzerland must (very lightly) sweat over their future, one thing is certain is that if they qualify they will face a group winner in the next round. It’s more likely to be the heavyweight that emerges at the top of Group F. Otherwise, the next most likely possibility is Belgium.

Wales, meanwhile, will face Denmark, Finland or Russia in the round of 16. There might not have been the tension there could have been, but the end result is the same: Wales are on another Euro adventure.

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