*

upload_article_image

Italy's reserves beat Wales 1-0 at Euro 2020

Italy’s reserves really do play as well as its starters. Or just about.

Roberto Mancini has been saying for weeks that all 26 members of his squad are starters. And after beating Wales 1-0 on Sunday despite making eight changes to his starting lineup at the European Championship, it's hard to argue with him.

The victory extended Italy's unbeaten streak to 30 matches — matching a team record.

Italy's Matteo Pessina, foreground, scores his side's opening goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico stadium in Rome, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Ryan PiersePool via AP)

Matteo Pessina gave Italy the lead late in the first half by redirecting a free kick from Marco Verratti on a textbook play.

Wales defender Ethan Ampadu was sent off with a questionable straight red card for stepping on Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes into the second half.

Italy, which won its opening two matches 3-0, finished Group A with a perfect nine points while Wales came second with four points.

Italy's Matteo Pessina (12) celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico stadium in Rome, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Alberto LingriaPool via AP)

Chasing only its second European title, Italy will play the second-place team from Group C at Wembley Stadium in London next Saturday. Wales will play the second-place team from Group B in Amsterdam.

The victory also marked Italy’s 11th straight win and clean sheet.

The Azzurri first won 30 straight under coaching great Vittorio Pozzo from 1935-39 with a team that won its second consecutive World Cup.

Italy's Matteo Pessina, center, scores his side's opening goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico stadium in Rome, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Ryan PiersePool via AP)

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for this Italy squad, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

On a warm and humid evening at the Stadio Olimpico, Italy controlled from the start and Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa both came close to scoring before Pessina put the Azzurri ahead.

Verratti earned a foul that set up a free kick on the right flank and then whipped in a low cross that Pessina flicked into the far corner with his back to the goal.

Italy's Matteo Pessina celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico stadium in Rome, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Alberto LingriaPool via AP)

Pessina, who plays his club ball for high-scoring Atalanta, was a late call up to Italy’s squad following an injury to Stefano Sensi. He earned the spot by scoring his first two goals for the national team in a Euro 2020 warmup match against San Marino.

Minutes after his goal, Pessina had another chance but poked the ball just wide.

Wales’ best chance of the half came with a header from Chris Gunter that narrowly missed the top corner.

Wales' Gareth Bale reacts after missing a chance during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales at the Stadio Olimpico stadium in Rome, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Alberto LingriaPool via AP)

Italy continued to pour forward after the break and Bernardeschi banged a free kick off the post.

By the final whistle, Italy had no starters from its opening two matches left on the field, with even goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma replaced by Salvatore Sirigu in the closing minutes.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Italy's Andrea Belotti sticks his tongue out during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group A match between Italy and Wales, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Sunday, June 20, 2021. (Riccardo Antimiani, Pool via AP)

Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf