Italy 2 Republic of Ireland 0: Cassano and Balotelli send Azzurri into last eight
20:59 GMT, 18 June 2012
Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli fired Italy into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after a tense 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.
Through: Italy celebrate Cassano's first-half strike
Italy: Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini (Bonucci 57), Balzaretti, Pirlo, Marchisio, Thiago Motta, De Rossi, Di Natale (Balotelli 74), Cassano (Diamanti 62).
Subs not used: Sirigu, Maggio, Ogbonna, Giaccherni, Borini, Montolivo, Giovinco, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
Booked: De Rossi, Buffon, Balzaretti.
Goals: Cassano 36, Balotelli 90.
Rep 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.
Booked: Andrews, St Ledger, O'Shea. Sent off: Andrews.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
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 tomorrow having failed to collect a single point.
Duff and his team-mates ran out wearing black armbands to mark the 18th
anniversary of the shootings of six men in Loughinisland, County Down,
as the victims watched the national team play Italy at the 1994 World
Cup finals in the United States.
Doing the Poznan: Ireland fans continue to enjoy themselves despite the scoreline
That day, Ray Houghton's goal secured a famous victory over the
Italians, and the latest generation set out in determined fashion in an
attempt to repeat the feat.
They might have taken the lead straight from the kick-off when Kevin
Doyle ran on to Pirlo's careless pass, but defender Giorgio Chiellini
dispossessed him before he could shoot.
Ireland safely negotiated the opening five minutes which had previously
proved so problematical in the tournament, but as the deep-sitting Pirlo
started to pull the strings, found themselves having to defend for dear
Curler: Daniele de Rossi has a shot on goal
But where that had been beyond them in their opening two games, this
time they found the resilience and organisation which had brought them
to the finals.
The two sides traded blows in their own particular fashions, the
Italians stylish and patient, the Irish more direct and abrasive, but
with neither goalkeeper being called upon at all.
Battle: Glenn Whelan and Alessandro Diamanti vie for possession
Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger both had to get in good blocks to
prevent Antonio Di Natale from troubling Shay Given, and the Leicester
defender had to be on his toes to dispossess the same man as he
threatened to carve his way into the penalty area once again.
But with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, Italy started to turn the screw.
Winner: Cassano beats Keith Andrews to Pirlo's corner
Glenn Whelan's misplaced pass allowed Cassano to pick out Di Natale and
when he rounded Given on the right side of the penalty area and shot
from a tight angle, St Ledger once again 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.
Diving in: De Rossi challenges Damien Duff
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
The sense of relief among the Italian fans, who were dwarfed in number
by their Irish counterparts, was palpable, and will have been shared
both on the pitch and the bench.
High hopes: Given spreads himself
However, Prandelli's players returned knowing they still had to get
through another 45 minutes and hope things elsewhere continued to go for
them if they were to progress.
It would have been 2-0 within three minutes of the restart had St Ledger
not once again denied Di Natale with a vital block, and Given had to
get down well to keep out Cassano's side-footed effort seconds later
with Italy looking to kill the game off.
Man of the hour: Cassano celebrates his goal
Daniele De Rossi curled a 51st-minute shot over the angle of bar and
post with Ireland looking more open than they had at any point until
But there was a flicker of hope for the Republic when Robbie Keane
forced Ignazio Abate to concede a corner which Dunne headed wide.
Off: Keith Andrews is escorted from the pitch after his red card
Given had to repel another Di Natale effort at his near post with 55
minutes gone, but Andrews tested Gianluigi Buffon from distance for the
first time on the hour.
Sensing that their time had come, the Republic launched a sustained
assault on the Italian goal, prompting Prandelli to introduce wild card
striker Balotelli with 15 minutes left on the clock.
Settler: Balotelli doubles Italy's lead late on
But 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 Balotelli hooked home a Pirlo corner to secure the win.