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HOW THEY QUALIFIED

  GROUP C GP GD PTS
1 Italy (Q)       10 8 2 0 18 26
2 Estonia 10 5 1 4 1 16
3 Serbia 10 4 3 3 1 15
4 Slovenia 10 4 2 4 4 14
5 Northern Ireland 10 2 3 5 -4 9
6 Faroe Islands         10 1 1 8 -20 4


RESULTS TOP SCORERS
Sep 3, 2010: Estonia 1-2 Italy
Sep 7, 2010: Italy 5-0 Faroe Islands
Oct 8, 2010: Northern Ireland 0-0 Italy
Oct 12, 2010: Italy 3-0 Serbia*
Mar 25, 2011: Slovenia 0-1 Italy
Jun 3, 2011: Italy 3-0 Estonia
Jun 7, 2011: Faroe Islands 0-1 Italy
Sep 6, 2011: Italy 1-0 Slovenia
Oct 7, 2011: Serbia 1-1 Italy
Oct 11, 2011: Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
* - Match abandoned
6 - Antonio Cassano
2 - Giampaolo Pazzini
1 - Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi,
Alberto Gilardino,
Claudio Marchisio,
Thiago Motta,
Andrea Pirlo,
Fabio Quagliarella,
Giuseppe Rossi

A near perfect campaign from the Azzurri, who cruised through Group C unbeaten and secured qualification with two games to spare.

Serbia had been expected to cause problems - and they did, but sadly only really off the field, as crowd trouble in Genoa led to Italy being awarded a 3-0 victory which undeniably played a key role in their smooth passage through the group.

However, the opening round win over Estonia in what was Cesare Prandelli’s first game in charge was also pivotal in building momentum, with Italy coming from behind to win 2-1 in Tallinn courtesy of goals from Antonio Cassano and Leonardo Bonucci.

Italy never really looked back thereafter. They won six of their next seven games (if one includes the abandoned Serbia clash), only dropping points against Northern Ireland in Belfast, before booking their place at Euro 2012 with a 1-0 home win over Slovenia courtesy of Giampaolo Pazzini’s late strike.

PAST RECORD IN THE EUROS 

1960
Did not enter
1988
Semi-finalists
1964
Did not qualify
1992
Did not qualify
1968
Winners
1996
Group stage
1972
Did not qualify
2000
Runners-up
1976
Did not qualify
2004
Group stage
1980
Fourth place
2008
Quarter-finals
1984
Did not qualify
2012
Qualified as group winners

Italy featured in just one of the first five European Championships but their sole appearance in the finals during that spell, in 1968, resulted in what remains their sole tournament success.

Home advantage proved helpful but Italy only managed to scrape by the Soviet Union on a coin toss, while they needed a late leveller from Angelo Domenghini in the final against Yugoslavia to force a replay which they edged thanks to first-half goals from Luigi Riva and Pietro Anastasi.

Italy’s record in the event since has been poor but they should, of course, have claimed a second title in 2000 but were left crestfallen after a final showdown with then world champions France in which they conceded a 94th-minute equaliser to Sylvain Wiltord in normal time before then succumbing David Trezeguet’s golden goal.

THE MANAGER | CESARE PRANDELLI


Cesare Prandelli knew when he accepted the opportunity to succeed Marcelo Lippi as Italy coach after the 2010 World Cup that he would have a massive job on his hands. However, just how big only became evident in South Africa as Italy suffered a humiliating first-round exit.

Credit to the former Fiorentina boss, though, he remained undeterred – even after a defeat in his first game in charge, against Ivory Coast - and promptly set about rejuvenating the Azzurri, injecting some badly needed youth into an ageing squad while at the same time wisely resisting the temptation to dispense with all of the heroes of Germany 2006.

Prandelli arguably has his favourites but crucially form has, for the most part, been the determining factor in his selections – hence the inspired decision to recall the enigmatic  Cassano - and that has been key to the restoration of confidence and belief among players and supporters alike.

THE CAPTAIN | GIANLUIGI BUFFON


Gianluigi Buffon is everything a captain should be: brave, strong, dependable and inspirational. When his country needs him, the veteran goalkeeper usually steps up to the mark.

In the 2006 World Cup final he produced a terrific save to keep out an extra-time header from Zinedine Zidane shortly before the Frenchman's dismissal, while two years later at the European Championships, Buffon stopped a potential game-winning penalty from Romania’s Adrian Mutu which ultimately enabled Italy to progress to the knockout stages.

Given his propensity for coming to his country’s rescue, Buffon was the obvious choice to succeed Fabio Cannavaro as Italy captain after the 2010 World Cup.

There had been a fear that recent injury problems might begin to take their toll on the Juventus veteran but such concern has been dispelled by his fine form this season.

THE STAR PLAYER | ANDREA PIRLO

Massimiliano Allegri has made few errors since taking charge of AC Milan but allowing Andrea Pirlo to leave San Siro on a free transfer at the end of last season is beginning to look like one of the biggest transfer gaffes in history.

Pirlo has been a revelation at Juventus this term, the key component in the Old Lady’s rejuvenation and Serie A title-winning campaign under new coach Antonio Conte.

Pirlo’s position at the base of the Italy midfield appeared under threat after the disastrous 2010 World Cup campaign but, as Euro 2012 approaches, the 33-year-old playmaker remains one of the first names on the teamsheet.

As Prandelli said recently: “Nobody creates time and space like him.”

THE EMERGING TALENT | MARIO BALOTELLI


Mario Balotelli courts controversy like perhaps no other player in the game today. Consequently, it is very easy to forget that this is a very special footballing talent - and one that has suddenly become very important to Italy with Giuseppe Rossi missing out through injury.

Powerfully built, Balotelli is an explosive striker capable of brute force but there is also a subtlety and finesse to his game, as evidenced by his wonderfully precise finish in this season’s Manchester derby at Old Trafford.

While still only 21, Balotelli has long believed that he is football’s 'next big thing'; Euro 2012 would be a fine place to start justifying his incredibly high opinion of himself.


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