Cassano and Balotelli send Italy into last eight

Italy 2 Republic of Ireland 0

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.

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.

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 life.

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.

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.

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.

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 net.

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.

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.

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 then.

But there was a flicker of hope for the Republic when Robbie Keane forced Ignazio Abate to concede a corner which Dunne headed wide.

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.

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.

Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence