Italy grab last-eight spot
17 Jun 2008 - 21:58:24
World champions Italy snatched a place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 by beating ten-man France 2-0 in Zurich to pip Romania to second place in Group C.
France coach Raymond Domenech brought in Francois Clerc and Eric Abidal in defence, while Karim Benzema took the place of Florent Malouda.
Italy's Roberto Donadoni recalled Gennaro Gattuso in midfield and Antonio Cassano partnered Luca Toni in attack.
Italy started brightly and, after Toni had wasted a clear chance with just five minutes played, France suffered a bitter blow when Franck Ribery was stretchered from the field with a nasty injury.
Straight away France had an escape when Christian Panucci met Andrea Pirlo's near-post corner and Claude Makelele and Gregory Coupet combined to keep the ball out.
With 24 minutes played France's plight got even worse as a long ball over the top let in Toni, who was brought down by Abidal, who was red-carded for a professional foul.
Pirlo made no mistake from the penalty spot, driving the ball high into the net to Coupet's right.
With half-an-hour played Toni wasted two chances in the space of a minute, slicing one chance wide when clean through and then driving an even better opportunity wide of goal with just Coupet to beat.
On the stroke of half-time Fabio Grosso drove in a superb left-foot free-kick and Coupet did brilliantly to tip it onto the post and prevent France from falling 2-0 down.
France started the second half brightly, with both Jeremy Toulalan and Thierry Henry forcing saves from Buffon, but just past the hour mark Italy doubled their lead with a sucker-punch.
A long-range free-kick from Daniele De Rossi took a huge deflection off Henry who was on the end of the defensive wall and left the wrong-footed Coupet totally beaten.
Benzema almost threw Les Bleus a lifeline 16 minutes from the end when he found space 25 yards out and curled in an excellent shot which Buffon tipped away at full stretch.
Right at the death Toni almost added a third when he fired goalwards from 20 yards, but Coupet made a superb save to tip the ball onto the outside of the post.
However, that made no difference to the final outcome and Romania's 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands in Berne ensured that Italy progressed to the last eight, where they will take on Spain minus the suspended Pirlo and Gattuso.