Even as Italy etched their achievements into Azzurri history, they offered more optimism for their immediate future. They can bid farewell to Rome for Euro 2020 with a 100 per cent record at the Stadio Olimpico. They may yet be European champions when they next play on home soil.
They go to Wembley on Saturday to face the Group C runners-up with proof of their transformation under Roberto Mancini. Matteo Pessina’s winner against Wales extended their unbeaten run to 30 games, equalling a national record set in the 1930s, while Italy have now gone 1055 minutes without conceding, something none of their predecessors managed.
And yet Wales emerged with much to celebrate as well. They were outclassed, beaten and reduced to 10 men, but they qualify in second and will face their Group B equivalents next.
Switzerland joined them on four points and may yet accompany them into the last 16 but face a nervous wait after beating Turkey 3-1.
Haris Seferovic opened the scoring and Xherdan Shaqiri added a brace either side of an Irfan Kahveci strike – a rare highlight for Turkey in their wretched tournament – but the Swiss finished behind Wales on goal difference.
Perhaps they can lament Italy’s decision to rest most of their premier players ahead of the knockout stages.
Mancini made eight changes. One was enforced, but the injured captain Giorgio Chiellini said he could be back for the last 16. Jorginho and the stand-in skipper Leonardo Bonucci were the only outfield players to retain their places in an illustration of strength in depth, and the latter was withdrawn at half-time.
By then, they were ahead after Matteo Pessina deftly volleyed in Marco Verratti’s low free-kick. The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder had won it himself and had performed with the air of a man with a point to prove.
He had figured in Mancini’s strongest side, but his knee injury had afforded Manuel Locatelli a chance, which the Sassuolo man took in style. But pairing Verratti with Jorginho again allowed Italy to dominate possession as two modern-day Andrea Pirlos demonstrated their passing range. The Atalanta midfielder Pessina almost scored a second from another ball from Verratti.
Meanwhile, Wales’ most-capped player Chris Gunter almost ended his 102-game wait for an international goal, heading Daniel James’ corner just over the bar. Gareth Bale later spurned a fine opportunity to equalise, volleying over but he and Aaron Ramsey otherwise struggled to replicate their heroics against Turkey as Wales were pegged back.
Their determination to avoid suspensions had been apparent when they made three changes, omitting Kieffer Moore, Ben Davies and Chris Mepham, who had collected yellow cards earlier in the group, but instead they suffered a sending off.
They may be scarred by the bans Ramsey and Davies picked up in Euro 2016 but Ethan Ampadu, one of those who came in, was dismissed for a late challenge on Federico Bernardeschi.
It was not the only decision to backfire. Robert Page shifted shape to use a back three but Andrea Belotti and Federico Chiesa both got in space behind the left wing-back Neco Williams when each dragged a shot across the face of goal.
Page moved Ampadu into midfield in a half-time reshuffle only for the Chelsea player to depart 10 minutes later. It gave the 20-year-old the dubious distinction of being the youngest player ever to receive a straight red card in the European Championships and, in the subsequent reshuffle, Page decided he had to summon Moore to hold the ball up.
But Wales could take solace from their resilience in the second half. Bernardeschi had struck the foot of the post with a free kick a minute after the interval.
When Wales were down to 10 men, they defended valiantly, Danny Ward made a terrific saves from Belotti and Bryan Cristante while Davies came on. Perhaps it benefited them that Italy did not need to score further goals. Mancini’s men have altogether greater ambitions.