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Italy book quarter-final berth
Published : 18 Jun 2012 22:17:15
Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli fired Italy into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after a tense 2-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland.
The AC Milan striker headed home from Andrea Pirlo's 35th-minute corner before substitute Balotelli added a second at the death to finally kill off Ireland's brave resistance.
Spain's 1-0 win over Croatia in Gdansk meant the reigning champions topped Group C, but Italy went through in second place.
On a night when only victory would do for Cesare Prandelli's men, they came up with the goods against an Ireland side whose exit from the competition was confirmed last week.
But while Italy dominated for long periods, they were unable to find a way past the green shirts for a second time to leave the Republic, led by winger Damien Duff on his 100th appearance for his country, in with a chance until Balotelli eventually calmed the nerves.
Giovanni Trapattoni's side, who had midfielder Keith Andrews sent off late on, staged a late blitz on the Italian goal which came up only just short, and although they restored some of their battered pride, they will return to Dublin on Tuesday having failed to collect a single point.
Glenn Whelan's misplaced pass allowed Cassano to pick out Antonio Di Natale and when he rounded Shay Given on the right side of the penalty area and shot from a tight angle, Sean St Ledger came to the rescue on the line.
But the reprieve was only temporary and after Given had conceded a corner by spilling Cassano's snapshot, Prandelli's men edged ahead. Pirlo's near-post delivery was met with a glancing header by Cassano and although Given got a hand to it, he could not keep the ball out of the net.
Gianluigi Buffon had to be at his best to keep out Andrews' drilled 79th-minute shot from Duff's back-heeled free-kick, with Ireland throwing everything they had at Italy.
However, it all turned sour at the death as Andrews, who had earlier been booked for a foul, received a second yellow card for dissent seconds before substitute Balotelli hooked home a Pirlo corner to secure the win.