ROME (AP) — Gareth Bale got only one chance to score against Italy and he wasted it.
His second-half volley over the crossbar could have been a costly miss, but in the end it didn't matter because Wales managed to secure second place in Group A and a spot in the round of 16 despite a 1-0 loss to Italy on Sunday at the European Championship.
The relief was palpable after the final whistle as Bale and his red-clad teammates hugged and walked to the sideline to thank the few Welsh fans who had made the trip to Rome.
“I’m proud of the boys," Bale said. “We wanted to try and get a result, but I guess it made no difference, we finished second anyway.”
Outplayed and outnumbered, Wales struggled to create chances against Italy. Bale had the team's best opportunity when Joe Rodon’s header set him up unmarked in the penalty area. He chose to strike the the ball with a left-foot volley but couldn't keep the shot down.
“I didn’t quite get over the ball enough, but it is what it is,” Bale said.
Bale has yet to score at Euro 2020. He missed a penalty against Turkey but set up both goals in the team's 2-0 victory.
Wales coach Rob Page said his captain's presence is important for the team even when he doesn't score.
“It’s not just about goals and assists,” Page said. “It’s everything else that comes with.”
When Ethan Ampadu was sent off in the second half for arriving late in a challenge and stepping on Federico Bernardeschi’s ankle, Bale was there to comfort the stunned 20-year-old Chelsea defender, patting him on the back and escorting him off the field.
“I didn’t really see too much,” Bale said of the situation that prompted the red card. “Obviously, I’m going to argue to try and defend Ethan. It was unfortunate but again we had to dig deep."
Wales now has a few days of rest before traveling to Amsterdam for the round of 16. They'll find out on Monday who they'll play in that match.
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Karl Ritter, The Associated Press