Italy beat Ireland 2-0
Goal scorers: Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Italy did it, and in style! A lot of permutations were there to decide the qualifiers from Group C before the final group match, but it was clear for Italy on what they wanted to do. Win by netting maximum in the Irish post. They did exactly that, and it was a scoreline the Italian fans would love to see any day. Cassano carrying his form in the qualifiers to this one, and wow, “the cyclist” Balotelli finishing it with a stunner just minutes before the final whistle blew in Poznan!
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli got a new team, with a mix of experience and youth. He changed the regular formation to start with. Though I expected him to field a 3-4-3, he chose a 4-4-2 diamond. There were only two changes from the team I predicted for this match. Ignazio Abate took the right back position and Thiago Motta got another game. The men missing from my side were Antonio Nocerino and Sebastian Giovinco. The most welcome inclusion was that of Andre Barzagli in defence. Daniele De Rossi was moved to the midfield from the sweeper position.
Italy dominated the first half and the ball was with them for the most part of it. But the Irish did not allow them to break free near their post and goals evaded the Italians. Minutes before the half time, Cassano placed his head perfectly to an Andrea Pirlo corner and that was good enough for them to leave the field contented during the break. The second half opened with an early attack from Italy, but the Irish were crowded in their penalty area to prevent any probable leak to their defence. Then the game changed and it saw the Irish men bringing the ball to the Italian area more often. Italy tried its best to keep the opponents at bay, and they much say thanks to the comeback man Barzagli, De Rossi, and the inevitable Gigi Buffon!
As I predicted, Alessandro Diamanti and Balotelli were called in for the final minutes for the match and didn’t they perform? Balotelli wiped off all the bad memories from the previous matches with a stunner of a goal which sealed the fate of the Croatians battling Spain in another match at the same time. Diamanti also showed his class in the last minutes of play. At the final whistle, Italy made themselves sure that they go through to the knock-out stage as the runner-up from Group C, with one win and two draws. Prandelli continued his unbeaten record as Italy coach! Italy now faces the winner of Group D in Kiev on 25-Jan-2012 0015 IST. Go Azzurri!