Italy will escape from the mire, say Buffon and Pirlo

Azzurri lose control of own destiny but key men are confident of qualification


The Italy captain, Gianluigi Buffon, is hopeful that a win against the Republic of Ireland on Monday will be enough for his team to progress to the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

The Azzurri have drawn their opening two games, against Spain and Croatia, and are two points adrift of those two sides heading into their last Group C match against the Irish, who have no chance of progressing after back-to-back defeats, 3-1 to Croatia and 4-0 to Spain.

Croatia's second-half equaliser against the Italians on Thursday meant that Cesare Prandelli's team are no longer in control of their own destiny. If the match between Spain and Croatia finishes in a draw in which a total of at least four goals are scored, a win on Monday for the Azzurri by any score will not be enough to see them through to the last eight.

"Against Croatia, the performance was there and so was our will to win," the goalkeeper Buffon told the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport. "In the first half we could have done better considering the chances we had to score, but we also have to take into account that we faced a strong side.

"We are disappointed with the draw. We played very well in defence despite conceding a goal. We paid the price for one of the few chances they created. We need to be more cynical. In games that are level, such as this one, we cannot give anything away.

"It depends on us and I am confident that a win against Ireland will be enough to progress."

The midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who scored with a free-kick against the Croats, is also upbeat about his side's chances.

"We can still go far and this is by no means the end for us," he said. "We need to grow and improve as we didn't play well in the second half against Croatia. We should have won but we will not let this result bring us down. We will go out with the intention of winning the next game."

Pirlo did not want to consider the scenario of Italy winning and failing to progress.

"Spain and Croatia are two top teams and I'm confident they will go out for the win," he said, regarding media suggestions that the other two countries could contrive the draw, by 2-2 or more, that would send Italy out of the tournament.

Against the Irish, Prandelli will be bolstered by the return of the Juventus defender Andrea Barzagli, who has missed the opening two games with a calf injury.

In years gone by, Italy would have settled for a draw after Croatia equalised but Prandelli's new breed at least tried to win, if ineptly. Part of the reason for such attacking intent as was shown after Mario Mandzukic levelled on 72 minutes, following Pirlo's first-half opener, was that the Azzurri defence is not as strong as previous versions and going forward nulls the threat posed by a relatively unreliable rearguard.

"We could have closed out the game with another goal," said Pirlo, who scored the first goal from a free-kick at the European Championship finals since 2004.

"It was a game to win. We can still go through. We want to grow and improve... it's not finished, we will try to win the next game."

The strikers Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano had another suspect game so Prandelli will be considering bringing in Antonio Di Natale from the start against the Irish. Little else is expected to change in the line-up, given that the midfielders on the bench are generally more defensive than those on the field.

This alone should cheer suffering Italy fans, as well as the fact Ireland have been comfortably the worst team at the tournament.

Several chances were created by Italy against Croatia in the first half and in truth Slaven Bilic's side should have been buried before they had the opportunity to equalise.

Another bright start against Ireland and Italy should be on their way but the Irish will not want to bow out without a fight and their Italian coach, Giovanni Trapattoni, will make sure his team are properly motivated.

"We have wasted a really great chance," said the Italy midfielder Thiago Motta, who came off against the Croats as a precaution, after suffering a head injury. "Now we will think about the next game knowing that against Ireland it will not be easy."

Croatia's coach also pronounced himself satisfied with the point gained against Italy.

"I'm very optimistic for the next match," said Slaven Bilic, whose team have committed 40 fouls in their two games, more than any other team apart from the Czech Republic. "I'm really satisfied we've four points from the two games. It could be even better but four points is optimal, realistic and now we have a real chance to go through."

Bilic had appeared to be clutching at straws immediately after the game, when he criticised the English referee Howard Webb for failing to award his team a penalty.

"I don't agree with coaches who don't comment on referees," he said. "This is very important for my job. I'm sure that was a clear penalty on Jelavic, and the referee was not good. Then there was a foul before the Italy free-kick [from which Pirlo scored]. I didn't like [Webb's] performance. I think he was a referee who helped the Italian team a lot."

However, anything that can be achieved in Poland and Ukraine this month will be a bonus for Bilic, who will end his six-year stint in the national job at the end of the tournament.

"We have four points after two matches – we would be happier to have six, but this is fair enough," the former West Ham United defender said.

"I am sure that the whole of Croatia would have accepted a situation where we had four points going into the last game, and we are going into that game with a realistic chance of going through from a group like this."

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