WALES sealed their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020 at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, but they certainly did it the hard way.

Robert Page’s men finished as Group A runners-up behind Italy, who progressed to the last 16 with a 100 per cent record after Matteo Pessina’s first-half strike was enough to beat Wales.

In avoiding defeat, Italy took their unbeaten run to 30 matches, while the clean sheet was their 11th in succession.

Wales, who played for most of the second half with 10 men following Ethan Ampadu’s straight red card, were hanging on to second place at one stage as Switzerland racked up the goals against Turkey.

However, their 3-1 win in Baku wasn’t enough to displace the Welsh.

Wales will now head to Amsterdam on Saturday where they will face one of Belgium, Russia, Finland or Denmark for a place in the quarter-finals.

Boss Page, a member of the last Wales team to face Italy back in 2003, made three changes to the side that had beaten Turkey in Baku four days earlier.

Ben Davies, Chris Mepham and Kieffer Moore, all on yellow cards, were replaced by record cap holder Chris Gunter, Ampadu and Neco Williams.

Italy manager Roberto Mancini, whose team was already through to the last 16 after back-to-back 3-0 wins over the Turks and Switzerland, opted for eight changes.

On a sweltering day in the Italian capital, it was the Azzurri who made the early running, albeit without troubling Danny Ward in the opening 15 minutes.

Wales enjoyed a good spell of play halfway through the first period, although they couldn’t produce an end product after lots of neat interplay in and around the Italy box.

At the other end, Wales were nearly made to pay for giving the ball away cheaply, but Andrea Belotti pulled his shot wide having been found by Federico Bernardeschi.

By this stage, the Swiss had taken the lead against Turkey, and after Gunter head headed just over from a Daniel James corner, news came through that Switzerland were 2-0 up.

However, Wales knew that if they kept a clean sheet then second place would be theirs, irrespective of what happened in Baku.

Italy then began to move up a gear and the pace of Federico Chiesa, son of former international striker Enrico, became more and more threatening.

And the deadlock was broken six minutes before the break.

The returning Marco Verratti whipped in a free-kick which was met by Pessina and the Atalanta man produced the deftest of touches to guide the ball past Ward and into the far corner of the net.

Pessina almost grabbed a second a few minutes later, Verratti the creator again, with Wales now desperate to hear the half-time whistle.

Italy came within inches of doubling their lead on 53 minutes, only the woodwork keeping out Bernardeschi’s low free-kick.

Just minutes later and Wales’s job got a whole lot tougher, and it was a moment to forget for Ampadu.

Ampadu caught Bernardeschi on the ankle with a late challenge and Romanian referee Ovidiu Hategan showed the Welshman a straight red card, making him the youngest player to be sent off in the history of the Euros.

Still reeling from losing a man, there was some good news for Wales from Baku where Turkey had scored.

Back in Rome and Ward saved well from Belotti as Italy launched attack after attack in a bid to make the most of their numerical advantage.

Meanwhile, a third Swiss goal in Azerbaijan ramped up the nerves among the Wales fans to previous levels.

Then, with 15 minutes left, a glorious chance for Gareth Bale.

A free-kick was swung into the Italy box, Joe Rodon climbed superbly to nod it back across goal to Bale, but the Wales captain, unmarked eight yards out, blasted his volley over.

Fortunately for Wales, that miss didn’t prove costly, as Italy failed to add to their lead and Switzerland couldn’t find any more goals in Baku.

Italy: G Donnarumma, Toloi, Bonucci, Bastoni, Emerson, Pessina, Jorginho, Verratti, Bernardeschi, Belotti, Chiesa.

Wales: Ward, Rodon, Ampadu, Gunter, Roberts, Morrell, Allen, N Williams, Bale (capt), Ramsey, James.

Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania).