Cassano and Balotelli see Azurri into the quarter finals
Italy 2-0 Ireland
Monday 18 June 2012
Italy secured their progression to the EURO 2012 quarter finals with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland – but they were made to wait to find out whether they had made it.
With Group C so tight, Italy’s win was only good enough once Croatia’s 1-0 defeat against Spain was confirmed minutes after the referee had blown the final whistle here.
But there were jubilant scenes among the Italian players and fans once news had filtered through of Spain’s victory. And it was little more than Italy deserved after this workmanlike victory over Ireland, who exit the competition without registering a point.
This might have been their best performance of their three Group C defeats, but Giovanni Trapattoni’s men were undone by Antonio Cassano’s header which crept just over the line in the 36th minute.
And Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli came off the bench 16 minutes from time to seal the victory with a superb late volley – after Keith Andrews had been dismissed for the Irish.
Italy, who finish second in the group, must now wait to see the outcome of Tuesday’s Group D matches, with Roy Hodgson’s England a possible quarter final opponent.
In their opening two clashes, Ireland were undone by conceding early goals but it was they who started on the front foot in this one. Kevin Doyle seized upon a slack pass by Thiago Motta within a minute but was crowded out before he could produce a meaningful effort.
Then, a minute later, Doyle almost teed up Robbie Keane but Gianluigi Buffon was alert to the danger.
But, having rode out a frantic opening period, Italy began to control proceedings as the half wore on. Just past the half-hour, Sean St Ledger was perfectly placed to clear Antonio Di Natale’s effort off the line after the Italy striker had rounded Given.
Ireland were unable to prevent Cassano’s opener which came in the 36th minute though. There was some confusion as to whether the Italian’s header crossed the line but replays showed that it did, only just, to give Cesare Prandelli’s side the lead.
In the end, Ireland did well to keep the score at 1-0 until half time as Italy began to turn the screw.
But there was little let-up after the interval with St Ledger making yet another brilliant block to deny Di Natale two minutes after the break.
Richard Dunne was next to produce some defending heroics, somehow clearing Federico Balzaretti’s effort off the line in the 49th minute.
Despite Ireland’s pressure this was undoubtedly Republic of Ireland’s best performance of the tournament and they enjoyed their best spell of the clash midway through the second half.
The pick of their efforts came from Andrews, whose long-range free-kick brought the best out of Buffon 11 minutes from time.
But it would be Andrews’ final act of the night as the tough-tackling midfielder was dismissed for a second-bookable offence in the 89th minute.
And within seconds, Italy made their numerical advantage count with their second of the evening. And it was Balotelli who had the last laugh, arrowing an exceptional volley beyond Given from seven yards.
Buffon, Abate, Barzaghli, Chiellini (Bonucci 57), Balzaretti, Pirlo, Marchisio, Motta, De Rossi, Di Natale (Balotelli 74), Cassano (Diamanti 62).
Subs not used:
Sirigu, Maggio, Ogbonna, Giaccherini, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
: Cesare Prandelli
Republic Of Ireland
: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, McGeady (Long 65), Whelan, Andrews, Duff, Keane (Cox 86), Doyle (Walters 76).
Subs not used:
Westwood, Kelly, McShane, Gibson, Hunt, O’Dea, Green, McClean, Forde.