The AC Milan player was the star of the night with two fantastic strikes, whilst an embarrassing own goal from McAuley allowed for a comprehensive victory over the futile visitorA dominating performance from Italy saw them finish outright winners over a lacklustre Northern Ireland, with an Antonio Cassano brace spoiling Nigel Worthington's last game in charge.
Neither side had anything riding on the match, with Italy having secured top-spot in Group C and Northern Ireland once more failing to qualify for a major tournament.
The first-half began with patient build-up from the Italians, but it soon became an intense progression, with the hosts confidently playing the ball around the Irish and eventually grabbed the opener with a sensational volley from Cassano.
The Milan player then placed himself in the spotlight again with a fantastic second after half-time, striking from 18 yards out, before an embarrassing own goal from Gareth McAuley made it three.
Cesare Prandelli made a host of changes to the side that drew with Serbia last Friday, as Mattia Cassani and Federico Balzaretti came in for fellow full-backs Christian Maggio and Leonardo Bonucci. Meanwhile, Sebastian Giovinco began the game up top in place of Giuseppe Rossi and Alberto Aquilani also got the nod.
The visitors also made several changes after more injury dropouts departed from Worthington’s squad, with Maik Taylor, Oliver Norwood, Ryan McGivern and David Healy among the names to get starts in the depleted side.
It was a tolerant start from the hosts, who gradually pushed at their visiting opponents in the early moments of the game, with Giovinco getting off a shot with just over five minutes played as a result of some fluid and almost beautiful interplay around the area, allowing the attacker to take a chance on goal.
Andrew Little failed to take advantage of a defensive slip from the hosts, as the attacker managed to get on the end of a loose ball that should have been cleared, but instead found its way into the six yard box, forcing an attentive Gianluigi Buffon to come off his line and concede a corner.
Giorgio Chiellini came just inches from grabbing the opening goal of a match so far dominated by the Azzurri. Balzaretti’s deflected corner seemed to be bearing goalwards and the centre-back managed to get the slightest of touches on the ball with his head, but could only push it wide of the post.
However, just moments later the inevitable happened and Italy took the lead through a sensationally finished effort by Cassano. Daniele De Rossi’s long ball down the middle was taken effortlessly by the AC Milan player, before even touching the ground, as the striker pirouetted with his eye to the ball and volleyed straight passed a helpless Taylor.
An equally impressive save from Juventus veteran Buffon kept the visitors from equalising, as the 33-year-old got to full stretch to keep out McGivern’s glanced header towards the far corner of the ‘keeper’s goal.
De Rossi tried pulling the strings once more as the Roma man placed a lobbed effort into the box for Giovinco, with the Parma attacker taking a touch before string the ball in Taylor’s direction, forcing the latter to get down to the ground and make a stuttered save.
Italy began the second-half as they had finished the first and kept the intensity flowing, forcing an early corner that the Northern Ireland defence had a hard time getting rid of, before Aquilani blasted from long-range, but failed to test an otherwise flustered Taylor.
Double trouble | Cassano brace ensured Worthington's final match ended in defeat
Another fantastic strike from Cassano saw the hosts double their lead just eight minutes into the second-period, after the Italians broke on the counter and the ball made its way to the former Real Madrid man on the right and the dangerman took advantage of the space, smashing the ball past Taylor from 18 yards out.
Substitute Warren Feeney should have made an instant impact after coming on after a terrific ball from the middle of the park found the attacker in the Italy box during a rare Northern Ireland forward move, but the striker couldn’t get his volley on target and skied it over Buffon’s goal.
Taylor was able to replicate Buffon’s heroics from the first-half to stop the hosts from adding to their tally after Riccardo Montolivo struck from distance and the former Birmingham man was able to get down in time to push the ball wide.
The Northern Ireland ‘keeper however couldn’t prevent a disastrous own goal from McAuley after Balzaretti placed the ball towards the path of Chiellini, but the Irish defender got in the way and continued to disrupt the ball’s direction, even whilst in Taylor’s hands and kicked it past his keeper and into the net.