POZNAN, Poland: Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli scored the goals as Italy beat 10-man Ireland 2-0 at the Municipal Stadium here on Monday to reach the Euro 2012 quarter-finals.
Spain’s 1-0 win over Croatia meant Italy finished second in Group C and will play the Group D winners in the last eight while Ireland finish bottom with three defeats.
While Italy were worthy winners, Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will have been bemused to see his side concede both goals from corners.
But Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will also have been concerned by his side’s dip in physical condition in the final 20 minutes, just as it did in their previous two games.
Prandelli admitted they had been taken a little by surprise early on. “We had some difficulties in the first minutes, they decided to play the ball on the ground and we messed up in centre midfield,” he said.
“Normally we’re more careful and wouldn’t let them get so far up the pitch but once we found our feet, especially in midfield, we did some good things.”
Ireland, who showed much willing but little quality, finished the game a man down after Keith Andrews was sent off late on by referee Cuneyt Cakir.
Having had their gameplan thrown into disarray by conceding early goals in their previous two matches, Ireland at least seemed fired up from the off. Several times Ireland broke at pace and had the Italian defence back-pedalling but they spurned their own chances through either a wayward pass, poor decision-making or running down a blind alley.
Even so, Trapattoni said he was proud of his players.
“We played much better this evening than we did against Spain and Croatia, we played with more personality and respected what we had said about credibility and commitment,” he said.
“This evening we made some little mistakes from two corners and we’re not used to these little mistakes but I’m proud of our commitment,” he added.