Cesare Prandelli's side professionally get the job done against the Irish and will now face the winners of Group D in the quarterfinals
Italy has qualified for the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 as the Group C runners-up thanks to a narrow 2-0 victory over Republic of Ireland in Poznan on Monday evening.
Cesare Prandelli’s men were on top for the majority of the first half, and a header from Antonio Cassano 10 minutes before halftime gave the Azzurri a lead to hold on to for a long period of time. Mario Balotelli then stepped up to seal the victory moments before the final whistle with a typically dramatic finish from just outside the six-yard box.
Italy came extremely close to taking the lead on the half-hour mark when Federico Balzaretti went on a marauding run down the left-hand side and reversed a pass into the area for Di Natale. The Udinese forward then swivelled sharply and hooked a strike at goal, but Sean St Ledger was on hand to make a brave block with his chest from six yards.
This was a period of real dominance for Prandelli’s side in the match, and it nearly took the lead again moments later when Di Natale took the ball beyond Shay Given and attempted to twist a shot over the line from a tight angle, but Richard Dunne sprinted back to make a terrific clearance off the line.
Ireland failed to weather the storm, however, and went behind in the 38th minute thanks to a headed goal from Cassano. Andrea Pirlo whipped in a dangerous cross to the near post from a corner kick and his former Milan teammate bulleted a header at goal that just squeezed over the line, with Given and Damien Duff’s attempts to clear off the line proving to be futile.
Italy came bursting out of the blocks after the break, and should have doubled its lead just four minutes into the half when Balzaretti again showed impressive skill down the left to cut a pass back into the danger area, but Cassano’s eventual strike at goal from 10 yards lacked conviction, and Dunne managed to clear the ball up the park.
The introduction of Shane Long midway through the second half gave Ireland the kick that it needed to up the tempo of its play, with the strength and movement and of West Brom striker causing real problems for the nervy Italian defense. A succession of corner kicks in a five minute period from Trapattoni’s men had the Azzurri looking shaky, but their best chance in this period of dominance came when Keith Andrews powered a strike at goal from long range, but Buffon was equal to it and managed to palm the ball to safety.
It all unraveled for Ireland towards the end of the match as in the space of a couple of minutes, Keith Andrews was given a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in frustration, and then substitute Balotelli stepped up to score Italy’s second goal with a fantastic bicycle kick just outside the six-yard box.
This victory sees Italy move on to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 to face the winners of Group of D. Republic of Ireland is heading home from Poland and Ukraine without have registered a point in the group.