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Wales face Italy for a place in Euro 2020 knockout phase

Paris (AFP) – Wales and Gareth Bale can secure a place in the knockout phase of Euro 2020 when they face Italy in Rome later as the tournament moves into its final round of group matches.

The stakes are high as 24 teams have to be reduced by eight. 

Wales — semi-finalists at Euro 2016 — stand on the brink of a return to the last 16 after a 2-0 win over Turkey that was orchestrated by Bale, who created both goals.

But they must face an Italy side who are playing at home in Rome and have made arguably the biggest impression of any team so far at the tournament.

The side coached by Roberto Mancini are already through with six points to Wales’ four. Switzerland have one point before their game in Baku against disappointing Turkey, who have lost both their games.

Wales therefore need just a point in the 1600 GMT kickoff to progress to a last-16 tie in Amsterdam, although if they win at the Stadio Olimpico they would leapfrog Italy into first place.

If they lose, the Swiss could yet finish above them by beating Turkey.

“We don’t want to limp across the line. We want to qualify in style and get where we deserve,” Wales coach Robert Page said.

Italy have won both matches so far by a 3-0 margin and are unbeaten in 29 games.

Paris Saint-Germain star Marco Verratti is set to return for the Azzurri after a knee injury with Mancini expected to make changes to his team.

The Swiss need three points against Turkey in Baku, also in a 1600 GMT kickoff, to have a chance of claiming a place in the next round.

“The game has a great importance. It’s a knockout game basically,” coach Vladimir Petkovic said.

– Loew dampens German euphoria –

Germany coach Joachim Loew moved to dampen the supporters’ optimism after his side blew away holders Portugal on Saturday.

The 4-2 win in Munich was arguably the Germans’ best performance in a major tournament since they won the 2014 World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal ahead as the 36-year-old scored a record-extending 12th goal at the European Championship finals, and also his 107th international goal on his 177th appearance for his country.

He is now just two away from the all-time international record, set by Ali Daei who scored 109 times for Iran.

However, Germany turned things around before half-time as Ruben Dias and Raphael Guerreiro both scored own goals. Robin Gosens set up Kai Havertz to make it 3-1 just after half-time and headed in the fourth himself.

Diogo Jota pulled another one back for Portugal but the defeat jeopardises their chances of making the last 16 just as Germany now have the knockout stage in sight.

Loew urged his players to focus on the challenge on Hungary on Wednesday.

“Nothing of significance has happened, we have only won a game, but now come further challenges which will be just as testing,” he said.

“The next game will perhaps be even more dogged, because Hungary stand deeper and defend with eight or nine men.”

– ‘God was looking at us’ –

Hungary, roared on by a 56,000 crowd in Budapest, the only host city without Covid-19 restrictions, held World Cup holders France to a surprise 1-1 draw on Saturday. 

The French needed an Antoine Griezmann goal to save their blushes after Attila Fiola gave the hosts the lead in first-half stoppage time.

Griezmann, the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016, equalised on 66 minutes as France avoided a first competitive defeat since June 2019.

“Today was the day in which maybe God was looking at us,” said overjoyed Hungary coach Marco Rossi.

France top Group F with four points, one ahead of Germany and Portugal, with Hungary bottom on one point.

France therefore just need a draw when they face Portugal on Wednesday to go through, but the Portuguese are at real risk of being knocked out if they lose and Germany avoid defeat against Hungary.

Spain are still looking for a first win after being held to a 1-1 draw by Poland in Seville.

Alvaro Morata gave the 2008 and 2012 European champions the lead, but Robert Lewandowski headed in Poland’s equaliser and Gerard Moreno fired a penalty for Spain against the post.

Luis Enrique’s side are third in Group E with just two points and need to beat Slovakia in their last game to be sure of a last-16 spot.

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