Sport How Wales can guarantee Euro 2020 knockouts qualification before they even kick a ball again
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Watch a Wales v Albania live stream in the second round of Euro 2020 warm-up gamesWales reached the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in what was the national team’s greatest ever achievement. There has been much change since then, with Chris Coleman having vacated the managerial hot seat in 2017. Ryan Giggs is now the permanent manager, but Rob Page will be in charge throughout Euro 2020 as the Manchester United legend awaits trial on charges of assault.
There is no better feeling for a team in tournament football than being in a position of great strength.
Thanks to a battling 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the opening game and a stellar display in the 2-0 win over Turkey on Wednesday night, Wales find themselves on the cusp of guaranteeing a spot in the knockout stages of Euro 2020.
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Rob Page's side have four points and sit pretty in Group A in the runners-up spot, however they face the unenviable task of taking on the impressive Italy in Rome this Sunday.
However, Wales could in fact have their spot in the knockout stages guaranteed before they next kick a ball again.
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While Page and Co will no doubt be gearing up to pull off a win in Rome, they will certainly have an eye on results elsewhere in the coming days in the hope of alleviating any lingering pressure.
The top two sides in all six groups automatically progress into the knockout stages. The remaining four last-16 places will go to the four-best third-placed sides.
If the results of four games on Friday and Saturday go favourably, it would, in the worst-case scenario, nail on Wales' spot as one of the four-best third-placed sides.
The favourable outcome of four fixtures could hand Wales early progress. In Group D, if Croatia lose to the Czech Republic and Scotland lose to England today, both the Croats and the Scots would remain on zero points, meaning it would be impossible to catch Wales, even if they did lose to Italy, in their final game.
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Similarly, in Group F, if Hungary lose to France and Germany lose to Portugal, those two teams will also remain on zero points and Wales' haul will again be unattainable.
It would mean two groups each have two teams without a single point, meaning the best points tally each of those groups' third-placed teams could haul is only three points. Even if Wales lose heavily to Italy, and Switzerland win against Turkey, they would still have four, guaranteeing them a spot as one of the best third-placed teams.
So while Welsh fans will of course be positive and optimistic heading into Italy, there is no harm in having a little cushion or buffer when it comes to guaranteeing qualification.
Therefore there will doubtless be Welsh fans keeping tabs on these upcoming four fixtures in the coming days and monitoring whether each result nudges their team closer to that round-of-16.
The key fixtures:
Croatia v Czech Republic – Friday, June 18 (5pm kick-off UK time)
England v Scotland – Friday, June 18 (8pm kick-off UK time)
Hungary v France – Saturday, June 19 (2pm kick-off UK time)
Portugal v Germany – Saturday, June 19 (5pm kick-off UK time)
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