Rob Page’s men needed a point to guarantee qualification but clung onto second place with a superior goal difference to Switzerland, who beat Turkey 3-1 in Sunday’s other match.
Matteo Pessina scored the only goal of the game with a sublime volleyed finish in the 39th minute at the Stadio Olimpico and Wales had no answer, with Ethan Ampadu sent off for a poor challenge on Federico Bernardeschi in the second half.
Italy had already secured their spot in the next round and the victory further enhanced their status as one of the favourites of this summer’s tournament alongside world champions France.
The first major chance of the match fell to Andrea Belotti in the 24th minute but the Torino striker dragged his shot narrowly wide of the post from a tight angle.
After Chris Gunter headed a Daniel James corner just over the crossbar, Roberto Mancini’s men ramped up the pressure with a series of incisive attacks and Ampadu came to the rescue as he deflected Federico Chiesa’s strike behind for a corner.
But the Italians took a deserved lead in the 39th minute as Pessina directed home Marco Verrati’s low free-kick with an exquisite volley beyond Danny Ward in the Welsh goal.
Pessina very nearly doubled his tally just two minutes later but saw his first-time finish roll inches past the upright much to the relief of Wales’ defence, who looked desperate for the half-time whistle to be blown.
There was no let-up after the break, though, as Juventus star Bernardeschi hammered a 30-yard free-kick against the outside of the post.
Aaron Ramsey was gifted a rare chance to equalise after a woeful backwards header from second-half substitute Francesco Acerbi but the midfielder failed to capitalise, dallying on the ball before the attack broke down.
And just as Wales appeared to be gaining a foothold, Ampadu was given his marching orders for a dangerous challenge on Bernardeschi.
Replays showed the Chelsea youngster came down with force on his opponent’s ankle and referee Ovidiu Hategan wasted little time in brandishing a red card.
A dominant Italy picked up where they left off after the break as Federico Bernardeschi struck a 30-yard free-kick against the outside of the post before Aaron Ramsey failed to capitalise on a woeful backwards header from substitute Francesco Acerbi.
But just as Wales appeared to be gaining some momentum, Ampadu was given his marching orders for a poor challenge on Bernardeschi.
An unmarked Gareth Bale had a massive chance to level in the 75th minute as Joe Rodon’s header found him at the back post but the Real Madrid forward looked on in dismay after blazing his volleyed effort well over the bar.
Italy held firm against ten-man Wales to secure a third win from three and there were wild scenes after the game as Mancini’s players celebrated their 30th successive game without defeat.
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