Group C
Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland



Mario Balotelli manages to produce a fantastic overhead kick into the net to score his first goal at Euro 2012 to make the points safe for Italy



By Alex Byrom
Deputy Football Editor from Poznan

Italy reached the knock out stage of the European Championships after a less than convincing win over an already knocked out Irish side who finish bottom and pointless.  

Antonio Cassano scored his second goal of the tournament, heading in a corner - eventually given thanks to the extra assistant referee - with sub Mario Balotelli volleying home the winner in stoppage time, as Italy got through, but only as runners-up after Spain got a late winner to beat Croatia 1-0.

There were 4 changes for Italy: Balotelli wasn't fit enought to start, so Di Natale started up front with Cassano; Defenders Gaccherini and Bonucci dropped out to be replaced by Balzaretti and Abate - the AC Milan defender, as the Italians reverted to 4-4-2. The final change was Barzagli coming in for Maggio on the left hand side of midfield. 

Ireland made one change to the side thrashed 4-0 by Spain: Cox was dropped to the bench, so Kevin Doyle was recalled. 


Ireland conceded 9 goals in this tournament. Only Yugolslavia in 1984 has a team conceded more goals. 

Italy started quickly eager to get an early goal to settle their nerves. They needed to win and one of the teams in the other group to lose. They were optimistic knowing their opponents had conceded a goal inside 4 minutes of every half in this tournament. Inside 48 seconds  Di Natale fired over a cross which De Rossi - pushed forward - cracked wide as a warning shot. 

Ireland managed to dodge that early spell of pressure and the game slipped into a bit of a slumber. Italy dominated possession and although got to the Irish box on several occasions their final ball was lacking. Ireland were now looking well organised and defending well. 

A great chance fell to the World Cup winners in 2006. Cassano got into the box and squared it to Di Natale, but St Ledger made a diving block to prevent the opening goal.  

Italy should have had a penalty on the half hour when St Ledger handled Cassano's shot from inside the area. It was good work by Marchisio down the left, who found Cassano in space. It was a big miss by the referee Cuneyt Cakir, but maybe Ireland deserved that little bit of luck. 

Italy finally broke the deadlock on 35 minutes. There was a good build up: Pirlo's ball into the corner found Cassano who beat the onrushing Given to the loose ball. From a tight angle he curled a shot with the outside of his foot, but St Ledger got back on the line to block. The AC Milan then had a shot that hit Given and bounced behind. A lucky save as he didn't look convincing. 

From the resulting corner, Cassano flicked on a header that hit Given and bounnced over the line, up and onto the bar. There was momentary confusion, but the referee signalled goal, on advice given by the extra assistant referee behind the goal. It was no more than Italy deserved and with Spain being held by Croatia it meant that the Italians were now going through as group winners. 

Italy decided that another goal was needed so set about their task in the second period with vigour and poise. De Rossi wasted another good position when he blazed over. 

Then, Ireland found an extra step, an extra stide, new found momentum. Dunne headed a corner wide and Keane and Long were giving Chiellini a rough time which cutivated in the Juventus man coming off injured. Also, there were a few fould creeping in, probably down to the nature of the game, and with everything riding on this result. John O'Shea was lucky to remain on the pitch when he brought down Balzaretti as he was going to run away from him. 

It was now end-to-end stuff but the Irish had a foothold in the game and Italy like they did against Croatia last time out - began to struggle. Andrews had a shot that Buffon did well to hang onto moments after Marchisio had a decent volley from the edge of the box that sailed wide. 

Both sides changed tactics: Italy withdrew Cassano for Diamanti - who spent a year at West Ham - and Ireland brought on Long for McGeady. The Italian sub hit a long range rocket which Veteran Given had no problem with. 

Ireland came extremely close to an equaliser and Italy's defending was being stretched to the limit. A free kick right on the edge of the box looked menacing enough. And so it was. Andrews hit a venomous effort which Buffon needed all his 34 years' experience to push away with his fists. It was a good, sustained spell of pressure by the Irish, for the first time in the tournament showing just what they were capable of. 


Italy have drawn the most games 1-1 in European Championship history.

Italy changed again with Balotelli on for Di Natale but hadn't been involved up to this point. He did well to hold up play, and after it looked like it hit O'Shea's hand, he fed Marchisio, but his shot was wayward. The Man City man then tested Given's concentration with a low shot, but the Aston Villa man was equal to it.

With a minute remaining Keith Andrews was dismissed by the referee. He went in for a tackle and was nowhere near the ball, and had already been booked. He was steaming afterwards as he flew into a rage, and kicked a basket of water before heading off down the tunnel. 

And Italy sealed it in stoppage time. Balotelli did well to win another corner. Diamanti took it and the Manchester City forward smashed in his first tournament goal on the volley from 8 yards despite him being held hy O'Shea: Stunning finish. 

The final whistle blew and there was a moment's delay as news came through of the final whistle in Gdansk, and it was that Spain had indeed beaten Croatia 1-0, so Italy progressed in second place - instead of Croatia who miss out. 



ANALYSIS:  Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland
Alex Byrom - Deputy Football Editor reporting from Poznan

"Italy squeeze through then. Not without a few scares along the way though. Ireland produced a much better performance and had they had a bit of luck, and done better in certain situations, then they may have got something out of the game. It looks like the Italians will play France or England on Saturday. They have not played to their potential yet; they can be a lot better. More of the performance of the calibre against Spain and they will go further."





Monday 18th June                 UEFA Euro 2012: Poland & Ukraine                   Group C                 Municipal Stadium, Poznan

Italy 2-0 Republic of Ireland                                     KO 7:45pm                 Live on BBC1/HD1               (HT 1-0)    

Cassano 35
Balotelli 90





1 Gianluca Buffon (C)-  7.5/10  Didn't have a great deal to do, the experienced stopper produced a routine sort of performance really - safe handling from crosses - everything you would expect from Buffon really. A fantastic save from Andrews.  

Giorgio Chiellini-  6.5/10  Had a okay game. Dealt with Robbie Keane well, and had a good battle with Doyle. Went off injured.  

6 Frederico Balzaretti-  7/10  Looked a half decent player. Some nice runs and some decent balls in the box, and a nice coolness under pressure. 

17 Christian Abate-  8/10  Did everything that you would ask from a central defender - strong in the tackle, didn't over-commit himself and put in some timely interventions. Was a real war-horse.  

8 Claudio Marchisio-  6.5/10  A good performance. Got forward well, but went he was forced into deeper positions, he struggled at times. 

15 Emanuele Barzagli-  6.5/10  Caught well forward at times but defended well enough at the back, only once did McGeady get past him.

21 Andrea Pirlo-  7/10  Wonderful range of passing, set up numerous attacks. Got into some good positions, not really a defensive midfielder though.

5 Thiago Motta-  6.5/10  A below-par performance from the PSG man, whose passing was a little astray at times. Couldn't get into the game.

16 Daniele De Rossi-  7/10  Another one who was good in spells. Showed flashes of the brilliant player he is. Wasted good positions in the attacking third.

10 Antonio Cassano-  8.5/10  Another excellent performance by the AC Milan man, who has really been a force in this tournament. Excellent header for goal.

11 Antonio Di Natale-  8/10  Started the game well and was always lively and causing problems - great link up and play with strikers and midfielders. 


Substitutes bench:-  
12 Sirigu (GK), 14 De Sanctis (GK), 4 Ogbonna, 6 Balzaretti, 7 Abate, 11 Di Natale, 15 Barzagli, 17 Borini, 18 Montolivo, 20 Giovinco, 22 Diamanti, 23 Nocerino. 


Subs used:     

Bonucci (for Chiellini- 57 mins)-  4.5/10  Calm prescence when he came on and helped the rearguard action in defence. Broke up play to set up Italian counter attacks.    

Diamanti (for Cassano 62-  mins)-  3/10  Composed and ran with the ball. Lacklustre passing though and was caught too deep.  

Balotelli (for Di Natale- 74 mins)-  4.5/10  Totally anonymous for 16 minutes, then gets a corner and volleys it into the net brilliantly. 


Booked:         Balzeretti (27), De Rossi (71), Buffon (73)

Sent-off:         None

Republic of Ireland:


1 Shay Given-  7/10  Without the Villa keeper in goal, the Irish would have conceded twice as many goals. Some good saves in this game too.

4 John O'Shea-  5/10  Lucky to stay on pitch as he got away with numerous fouls, and persistent infringements. Incredibly slow at times.   

5 Richard Dunne-  8/10  Did well in all all areas of defending making some excellent blocks and last ditch tackles.

2 Sean St Ledger-  7/10  Did well alongside Dunne with some great blocks too. Lost his cool at the end and was booked for dissent.

3 Stephen Ward-  7/10  Some excellent covering, showing increased changes in speed. Could have got forward more to help McGeady, but couldn't really do so.

11 Damien Duff (C)-  6/10  Never stopped running and always wanted the ball. Although he gave it away in good positions. Was captain for his 100th cap.

6 Glenn Whelan-  6.5/10 Short of quality in midfield up against Pirlo and De Rossi. Worked hard and broke up play.

8 Keith Andrews-  5/10  Tried - and worked incredibly hard, but was poor in quality and was frequently caught out of position. Sent off late on.  

7 Aiden McGeady-  6/10 Not his best game - but that's 3 games in a row. Attacked the defender more but final ball was often poor.

9 Kevin Doyle-  8/10  Worked hard up front by closing down and harrassing the defence. Chiellini couldn't even handle him. Only needed a goal.

10 Robbie Keane-  6.5/10  Never likely to score but kept going and worked hard all night.

Substitutes bench:-
16 Westwood (GK), 23 Forde (GK), 12 Kelly, 13 McShane, 18 O'Dea, 15 Gibson, 17 Hunt, 21 Green, 22 McClean, 14 Walters, 19 Long, 20 Cox.


Subs used: 

Long (for McGeady 65 mins)-  3.5/10  Tried to make an impression and hassled the defence but not enough quality in final third to trouble Buffon.

Walters (for Doyle 76 mins)-  3/10  Had no effect on the match at all which is surprising for such a lively player normally. Had a few runs but they were snuffed out. 

Cox (for Keane- 86 mins)-  1/10  Didn't do a great deal to change the match for the Irish. 


Booked:       Andrews (37), O'Shea (38), St Ledger (87)


Sent-off:       Andrews (89)

My Man of the Match:    Antonio Cassano (Italy)- Rating 8.5/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:   John O'Shea (Ireland)- Rating 5/10

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)- 7/10
Attendance: 44,416

Match Facts:

Italy- 53%                Ireland- 47%

Shots at goal: Italy- 24                Ireland- 9

Shots on target: Italy- 17                Ireland- 5

Shots off target: Italy- 7                Ireland- 4

Corners: Italy- 12                Ireland- 5

Fouls: Italy- 16                Ireland- 23

Offsides: Italy- 4                Ireland- 7

Assists: Italy- Pirlo & Diamanti                Ireland- None


Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli: "There is no difference for us who we play. We have already played Spain who are reigning World Champions. If we play well we can face anyone. It was a difficult match. We came up against a side that made us suffer. [Tonighy] heart was better than quality; we created a lot of chances [though]."

Ireland head coach Giovanni Trappatoni: "The intention is there to come back with fresh energy and a new squad and do better, and I can't wait for the [World Cup] qualifiers to begin. I spoke with one or two and we will see ahead of August's friendly. Maybe at this moment, they are disappointed and I will speak with them later. I understand their disappoint because we had to do better but [against Italy] I have nothing to reproach the players for."

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