Euro 2012: Italy beat Ireland to enter quarters
Italy qualified for the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 after Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli scored in each half in a tense 2-0 victory over Ireland on Monday.
Italy qualified for the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 after Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli scored in each half in a tense 2-0 victory over Ireland. (All AFP and AP Images)
Cassano headed in with his back to the goal by the near post following a corner kick in the 35th minute on a warm and muggy night at the Municipal Stadium Poznan.
Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given got his hand to Cassano's header but couldn't prevent it from going in.
Balotelli came on as a substitute and doubled the lead in the 90th, a minute after Ireland were reduced to 10 men with Keith Andrews picking up his second yellow card.
Balotelli's goal was a work of art, with the 21-year-old striker acrobatically wrapping his shot around defender John O'Shea in mid air, as he met a corner kick from Alessandro Diamanti.
Still, Italy had to wait a few moments after the final whistle to celebrate after receiving word that Spain beat Croatia 1-0 in the other Group C match.
"We suffered in the last few minutes because we were waiting for the result in the other game," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "We have got through this group which wasn't easy with Croatia, Spain and even Ireland who, even though they were out, gave everything they could."
Prandelli made four changes from the Azzurri's opening two games, including Andrea Barzagli who came on in defense.
Antonio di Natale was preferred over Balotelli and handed a start.
The changes allowed Daniele De Rossi to move back to his natural position in midfield.
Defender Giorgio Chiellini looked to have suffered a significant injury.
Even though Ireland lost, St Ledger did a superb job of frustrating them. He made several blocks to deny Di Natale at close quarters.
"We played well tonight but without creating too many chances either," Ireland forward Robbie Keane said. "We're disappointed not to get anything out of the group, but we've been beaten by better teams."