‘A loss to join pantheon of Wales’ great defeats’

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Dates:11 June-11 July Venues: :Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Seville, St Petersburg. Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 Live, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app. Click here for more details

A loss in Rome, a result to rank in the pantheon of Welsh football’s greatest defeats.

For a nation that has missed out on more tournaments than those in which it has played, Wales has become accustomed to losing, most often agonising near misses or just plain misery.

But in this golden era, with success has also come glorious failure.

A 2-0 defeat in Bosnia-Herzegovina six years ago was of no consequence as Wales still ended a 58-year absence from major tournaments with qualification for Euro 2016, where they went on to scale new heights by reaching the semi-finals.

Then in Rome on Sunday, they were beaten 1-0 by Italy in the Eternal City, a result that nevertheless took Wales into the knockout stage of Euro 2020.

It was a defeat that felt like a win, certainly to manager Robert Page.

“Of course it does because we’ve got second spot, it’s that feeling of winning,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the character of a Welshman. It’s phenomenal what the changing room has got in there. I’m bursting with pride.”

Wales were forced to play the final half an hour a man down after Ethan Ampadu was sent off, the remaining 10 men delving into their deepest reserves to limit the damage and scrape through to the second round on goal difference ahead of Switzerland.

Finishing third may well have been enough to progress as one of the tournament’s four best third-placed teams, but this result ensured they kept their destiny in their own hands.

“We knew it was going to be a difficult game but we got the job done, finished second,” said captain Gareth Bale.

“It was a little bit disappointing to lose the game, it’s natural, but the boys just grafted, ran all day and did what we had to do.

“We really dug deep. We showed the character again and I’m proud of everybody.”

Next for Wales is a second-round tie in Amsterdam next Saturday against Group B’s runners-up, likely to be Russia, Finland or Denmark.

Having been drawn alongside Italy, Switzerland and Turkey, simply getting out of their group would be considered a success for most – but Wales’ players had set that as a minimum target before the tournament.

“It’s a great achievement and we just have to patch everyone up now and recover and get going again in a week’s time,” said Bale.

“We will always be together. That’s our platform. We always stick together, we always work hard together, but we can’t look past the next game and don’t know who we’re getting yet.”

Bale and his team-mates will not be thinking that far ahead but victory in Amsterdam would take Wales back to Baku for a quarter-final.

As the 31-year-old and his team-mates demonstrated in France five years ago, anything is possible once you advance to the knockout stage.

As Page says: “Now the real stuff starts.”

Player of the match

VerrattiMarco Verratti

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