Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (R) and Leonardo Bonucci celebrate their victory at the Group C Euro 2012 soccer match against Ireland at the City stadium in Poznan, June 18, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS/Sergio Perez)
Italy qualified for the second round of the Euro Cup 2012 with its 2-0 shutout over the Republic of Ireland.
Italy was in desperate need of a victory as it had only accumulated two draws in its first two matches against Croatia and Spain. In both matches, the Azzurri blew 1-0 leads and were unable to sustain offensive prowess.
Coming into this match, Ireland was already eliminated on virtue of a 3-1 loss to Croatia and a 4-0 thrashing by Spain. All the Irish could do was play for pride and spoil the dreams of the Italians.
Ireland came out creating a few strong opportunities in the early going, but Italy fired back. They were rewarded in the 35th minute when Antonio Cassano blasted a shot at Irish goalkeeper Shay Given who failed to hold on to the shot and let it slip out of bounds to give Italy a corner kick. On the ensuing cross from Andrea Pirlo, Cassano headed the shot past Given barely past the line to give Italy a 1-0 lead.
With the 1-0 lead, Italy was well on its way to not only securing its qualification to the quarter finals, but also winning Group C. Ireland came out aggressively in the second half, but were unable to produce any results. The Italians finally got relief when substitute Mario Balotelli scored in the 90th minute in a virtuosic manner. Alessandro Diamanti crossed the ball on a corner into the box where Balotelli, with his back to goal, hooked the ball into the back of the net to give Italy a 2-0 lead.
Balotelli, who has been known for his antics on and off the field, started the game on the bench after two poor performances to start the tournament. Antonio Di Natale started in his stead after two strong games off the bench. However, Di Natale was not at his best in this match and created few opportunities. He was replaced by Balotelli in the 74th minute.
Italy controlled 60 percent of the possession and outshot the Irish 27 to six with 17 shots on target to Ireland's two shots on target. Ireland ended the tournament with 0 points, one goal scored, and nine goals against.
With the victory, Italy ended up as the runner-up of Group C and will face off against the winner of Group D on Sunday.