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WC Qualification Europe
8 June 2013
• Generali Arena, Praha
Referee: S. Moen
• Attendance: 18235
Mario Balotelli's sending off will doubtless make the headlines, but Prandelli will have some tough questions to answer after that performance. As it is, the Azzurri remain unbeaten and on course for Brazil 2014. I've been Tom Maston, and thanks for joining me.
So where does that leave Group B? Italy remain top, four points clear of Bulgaria in second. Czech Republic are a further point behind in third, though today's performance will give them confidence moving into the final few fixtures.
All over and Italy have held on for a 0-0 stalemate in Prague. They will have Buffon to thank for a superb performance in keeping the Czech Republic at bay, and he probably deserved the luck he got when Jiracek hit the post late on.
90' + 2'
SO CLOSE! The home side almost grab the goal they deserve as some pinball in the box eventually falls to Kolar. The substitute hits his shot well, but with Buffon beaten, it goes agonisingly wide. Italy looking like getting away with it here.
90' + 1'
Yellow Card Riccardo Montolivo
90' + 1'
Montolivo picks up a booking. Czechs pushing forward now.
Free kick to Italy as we enter stoppage time. With Balotelli off the field they have no one to aim for and eventually lose possession.
All Czech Republic now as they push for a winner that they would, on balance, deserve. Buffon yet to be tested in the final five minutes.
Final change for the hosts as Jiracek makes way for Kolar.
OFF THE POST!!! Italy's defence goes to sleep again and Plasil's ball has Czech players queueing up to apply the finish at the back post. Jiracek is the man who meets it, but his stabbed volley comes back off the post and out for a goal kick. The midfielder hurt himself in the process and is receiving treatment. That was the chance for Czech Republic.
Free kick for the hosts on the right hand side as Barzagli brings down substitute Kadlec. Plasil to whip it in left-footed.
We enter the final ten minutes with the teams still locked together at 0-0. Can either side find a winner? You'd make Czech Republic favourites at present.
Italy win a corner, but Giovinco can't create anything as Cech claims the ball under little pressure. Pretty much all he's had to do this evening.
Italy make their second change, and it is Pirlo who will make way after a frustrating evening. Aquilani on in his place.
Rosicky attempts a spectacular volley which is deflected wide for a corner. The home side make their second change, with Darida being replaced by Vaclav Kadlec.
Balotelli is not happy as he punches and kicks the tunnel as he makes his way off the pitch. I'm sure Prandelli will have something to say about the referee's decision post-match.
Yellow/Red Mario Balotelli
RED CARD!!! Balotelli's evening is over after receiving his marching orders. The striker receives a second yellow for catching Gebre Selassie with his hand when battling for a header in the Czech area. A pretty soft dismissal for the Milan man, and Italy will play the remainder of the match with ten men.
Into the final 20 minutes now and, like in the first half, Italy are slowly making their way into the game. Can they force a late winner to break Czech hearts?
Yellow Card Mario Balotelli
Balotelli booked for a late challenge on Kadlec.
Again Buffon to the rescue. This time Kadlec feeds Kozak, and after evading De Rossi's challenge on the edge of the box, the forward fires towards the top corner. His effort isn't powerful enough though and Buffon parries easily. Another good chance wasted.
Yellow Card Vladimír Darida
Darida picks up the first booking of the game as we close in on the final quarter of the game. Still wouldn't like to pick a winner.
It's raining shots now as Darida sees a powerful effort fly just the wrong side of the post. We could yet have a thrilling finish to this one.
The game is starting to open up with both sides chasing a winner, and Montolivo is the latest to try his luck with a rasping drive that has Cech scampering before it flies just wide of the post. Better from Italy.
Another long range effort from Czech Republic but Kozak's shot isn't powerful enough to really test Buffon as he picks it up easily.
Big chance for the home side and Italy again have Buffon to thank. Kozak breaks the offside trap with a clever run after a pinpoint Rosicky pass. He brings the ball down well but by the time he turns to face goal Buffon is in his face and turns his shot behind. Best opportunity of the game so far.
Another half chance for the Czechs to create something as Jiracek finds himself in space on the left, but not for the first time his delivery is poor.
Barzagli and Kozak share some heated words after the pair battle for an aerial ball. The pair touch heads but the referee sensibly takes no action against either player.
Pirlo's frustrations beginning to show here as he needlessly pulls back Rosicky to concede a free kick. Not going the Juventus man's way tonight.
The ball is in the net for the home team, but it won't count as the linesman's flag is up. Sivok went too early from Plasil's free kick, and though his header was turned in by Jiracek, the whistle had already gone.
Plasil's corner is poor as it's cleared at the near post, and for a moment Italy threaten a counter attack, but it's thwarted almost as quickly as it started.
Kadlec has done well since moving to left back, and he forces a corner after Buffon fails to keep in his deflected cross. Another set piece opportunity for the hosts.
Worry for Italy here as Balotelli stays down after a trip from Suchy. the striker doesn't need treatment though and is back on his feet.
Czech Republic are again quick out of the blocks as they win a corner on the left. Buffon punches the original ball away under pressure from Sivok, though only as far as Jiracek. The midfielder's header floats wide, fortunately for the Italy backline who were again all at sea.
Stephan El Shaarawy
Italy get us underway for the second half having made a change during the break. Giovinco has replaced El Shaarawy up front after a quiet half from the Milan man.
What do you think of the game so far? What can Italy do to improve their performance, or are Czech Republic just proving to be too strong for them? Get in touch on Twitter @maston91 with your views ahead of the second period.
The referee has brought an end to the first half and the home team will be by far the happier with their performance so far. Italy managed to get their foot on the ball more as the game wore on, but Buffon has by far been the goalkeeper with the most to do. An intriguing second half is in store.
Chiellini and De Rossi hasn't really worked down the left for the home side and it may be something that Prandelli looks at during the break. This is illustrated by the defender trying to play a through ball for the Roma man that goes straight into touch.
Hubschmann lifts a ball into the area but Darida is beaten to it by Buffon. Looks like we may have to wait until the second period for goals.
Pirlo gets another chance to deliver, but his cross from open play can only be flicked on Chiellini and Cech watches it roll out for a goal kick. The Chelsea goalkeeper hasn't had a save to make thus far.
Abate wins a corner after some trickery on the right leads to his cross being blocked. Chance for Pirlo to create something, but his dead ball delivery is unusually lacking.
With Limbersky having been substituted, Kadlec has reverted to left back, and he has the hosts' first sight of goal for a while as he cuts in on his right foot and fires wide from 25 yards. Despite improvements, Italy not out of the woods yet.
Italy seemed to have pushed full-backs Abate and Chiellini forward a little to combat the five man midfield of Czech Republic, and it's working. The home side have barely had a touch in the last few minutes.
Little in the way of action of late. Italy seem to have woken from their slumber and beginning to find their feet after being slightly shocked by the hosts' start.
Italy asserting a bit more control now. A spell of possession leads to Abate getting forward down the right, but his cross is overhit and El Shaarawy can create anything once he retrieves the ball.
Italy are trying their best to get something going, but with Pirlo struggling to get time on the ball, they are showing little in terms of creativity.
Buffon is unhappy at his defence and you can see why. Kozak is given all the time in the world to cut inside onto his right foot on the edge of the area, and his low shot is well held by the goalkeeper at his near post. The home side massively on top at present.
Jiracek has been heavily involved thus far, and he tries his luck again form distance. Again his effort is too high, but all these shots can only breath confidence into the hosts.
Half-hearted penalty appeals for the hosts as Abate and Kozak battle for the ball after Darida chips the ball into the centre of the box. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, and the resulting corner comes to nothing.
Italy look really off the pace so far, and their goal is again under threat as Jiracek flashes a shot over the bar from the edge of the area. Prandelli will have some stern words for his troops if things don't improve before half time.
Buffon again called upon as Plasil flicks a cross towards Kozak. The goalkeeper does well though to claim the ball ahead of the striker.
Early change for the home side as Limbersky is replaced by Suchy.
As poor as they have been in defence, Italy are still a danger going forward, and with El Shaarawy and Balotelli they are always a threat. The former gets the ball to the byline on the left hand side, but his cross is just behind his strike partner.
The Italians are all over the place at the back, and they are almost punished as Plasil's short corner catches out the whole defence, only for Rocisky to skew his shot wide from the edge of the area.
The home side have lined-up with five men in midfield, and are outnumbering their Italian counterparts when in possession. Jiracek again gets forward down the left this time, but better defending from Prandelli's side quells the danger.
The Czech side look really up for this and are giving their visitors no time on the ball. It may not be as easy as first though for Italy to preserve their unbeaten record in Group B.
Buffon has been busier than he would have hoped in this opening quarter already. The Juventus goalkeeper has to be on his toes to deny Jiracek as the ball falls at the midfielder's feet after some pinball in the visitors' box. It remains goalless.
So close for the hosts, and it way almost so embarrassing for Abate. Rosicky found Hubschmann breaking forward, and the midfielder in turn tried to feed Kozak, only for the defender to slide in and send the ball just wide of his own post with Buffon helpless.
Chiellini pushes forward down the left and finds Balotelli on the edge of the box. The striker lays the ball back to El Shaarawy, but the Milan youngster can't control and loses the ball on the edge of the box. Better from Italy.
He may now be a veteran of the game, but Buffon is still one of the world's best goalkeepers. Balotelli concedes a free kick on the edge of his own box, and the Italy captain has to be on his toes to deny Sivok with a low save to his right. The defender was offside, but a good save all the same.
Encouraging from Czech Republic as Jiracek gets forward down the left hand side. The midfielder sees his cross blocked for a throw-in, but the hosts will be happy with their start here.
First sight of goal for the home side as Plasil takes aim and fires towards the top corner from 30 yards. His effort is always too high and Buffon can just watch it float over the crossbar.
No real rhythm to the game yet as Kozak is penalised for a push with the hosts looking to get the ball forward.
First effort on goal of the game comes after just 45 seconds as Balotelli tries his luck from all of 35 yards. His shot is a weak one, though, and dribbles harmlessly wide.
Czech Republic get us underway. Italy soon win possession in the midfield.
The formalities are over, and we are just moments away from kick-off. Will Italy take another step towards Brazil 2014, or can the Czech's revitalise their campaign. The next 90 minutes of football will tell us.
A good number of Italian supporters in the stadium as the lead-up to this encounter continues. Czech fans in good voice during their national anthem.
The teams are making their way out onto the field in Prague. Captains Tomas Rosicky and Gianluigi Buffon lead the sides out before the national anthems can begin.
Just over five minutes to go until kick-off now. How do you see this game going? Get in touch on Twitter- you can find me @maston91- with your views on the chances of the two teams in action this evening.
Having played five matches thus far, Italy top Group B on 13 points, and have a game in hand on second-placed Bulgaria, who are also three points off the pace. Czech Republic are currently third, though a win tonight would see them leapfrog Bulgaria into a play-off spot.
The Azzurri will line up with Balotelli and El Shaarawy leading the line, with Milan teammate Montolivo playing in just behind them. Meanwhile. Chiellini moves to left back, with Barzagli coming into the heart of the defence after shaking off an Achilles injury.
Italy's chances have been boosted by the absence of Matej Vydra, who played on loan at Watford last season as part of the Udinese contingent at Vicarage Road. The striker, who scored twice in the Czech's friendly win over Armenia in March, doesn't even make the bench due to injury.
Italy: Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini, Abate, Bonucci, Pirlo, Marchisio, De Rossi, Montolivo, Balotelli, El Shaarawy
Czech Republic: Cech, Limbersky, Kadlec, Gebre Selassie, Sivok, Plasil, Jiracek, Hubschmann, Rosicky, Darida, Kozak
The teams are in at the Generali Arena with just 20 minutes until kick-off...
Hello, and welcome to Goal.com's live coverage of Italy's trip to Prague to take on Czech Republic as qualification for the 2014 World Cup hots up. Cesare Prandelli's team are currently sitting pretty at the top of Group B, and victory here would put them on the brink of sealing their place in Brazil with games to spare. For the hosts, a win here would put them back in the hunt after a disappointing start to their campaign.
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