Turin: Italy coach Cesare Prandelli hailed the battling qualities of his team after a come-from-behind 2-1 win over the Czech Republic sealed the Azzurri's ticket for the 2014 World Cup.
Unbeaten Italy's sixth win Tuesday in eight games so far left them on seven points clear of Bulgaria, who lead Denmark by a point with two qualifiers remaining in the battle for second.
Despite such swift qualification, Italy's campaign has yet to convince the country that hasn't forgotten their group stage elimination in South Africa three years ago, that the former four-time winners can challenge for honours in Brazil.
Italy looked to be heading for a possible wobbler when they went in at half-time 1-0 down after Libor Kozak's 19th minute opener for the visitors.
Prandelli later admitted: "We certainly didn't feel like smiling in the dressing room but I told the boys it wasn't the time to be feeling down."
Italy, beaten finalists at Euro 2012, have often battled their way out of sticky situations and the Azzurri were soon back on level terms when Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini headed home from a corner in the 52nd minute.
Mario Balotelli, who had missed a raft of goalscoring chances in the opening period, gave Italy a deserved lead when he beat Petr Cech from the penalty spot after being hauled down by Theodor Gebre Selassi.
Having seen his side fall virtually out of contention following three defeats, Czech coach Michal Bilek tendered his resignation, but Prandelli hailed his team's battling qualities.
"We knew we could overturn the result and we were rewarded for our determination," added the coach, who dismissed questions about his future following recent reports he would resign after next summer's showpiece.
"We are a great team because we know our limits and we build on our qualities."
Before later making amends, Balotelli -- loved and hated in equal measure by Italy's fans -- had finished the first half with arguably more detractors added to his list.
Among his string of misses from close range was a skied effort after snatching a rebound from the hands of Cech six yards out.
The AC Milan striker, who later applauded the response he got from the many fans present from rival Serie A club Juventus, admitted: "I've never missed so many chances in a match."
He added: "The worst miss was the one I hit with my left foot after the rebound from Cech. I hit the ball higher because I thought he was scrambling to take it back off me, but I lifted it too high.
"I was unlucky but in the end we battled right till the end."
Juventus defender Chiellini, whose header from Antonio Candreva's cross sent Italy on their way to the win, said: "For us to see him (Balotelli) missing so many chances is also strange.
"But if Mario stays calm and concentrates fully on his game, he's decisive for us."
Italy still have two qualifiers, against Denmark and Armenia, to play but Prandelli has the luxury of using those like friendlies in which he can experiment with tactics or fringe players.
In this campaign, Prandelli has tinkered with formations and personnel on a regular basis, but for Chiellini the end result is not so bad.
"We all wanted to win to seal this qualification... we've worked hard in the past three years.
"We know our limits as well as our qualities and we have to work to eliminate the mistakes we make on the pitch.
"We're not the strongest players individually but collectively we produce our best and this helps to raise everyone's game."