POZNAN – Italy began the day knowing one thing, they had to win, and they needed help. Unfortunately, their fate was not in their own hands. A 2-2 draw between Croatia and Spain, and Italy would be headed home, eliminated. Instead, a 1-0 victory by Spain, coupled with an Italian 2-0 victory over Ireland, allowed the Italians to sneak by Croatia and into the knockout stage.
Ireland came into the game knowing that they were already eliminated and played a pretty defensive game. Early in the game, the Italians controlled the ball, and would do so throughout the game, holding possession for 67% of the game.
Italy also had 26 shots to just 9 for the Irish, putting 9 on goal compared to just 2 for Ireland. It was only a matter of time in the game before the Italians would break through. After Antonio Cassano got an attempt on goal, only to be saved by Shay Given, a corner was conceded. Andrea Pirlo swung the ball in to the near side of the post where Cassano was waiting. He did not get all of the ball, but he got just enough that it was able to get by Given, even though he had a hand on it.
Instead of moving forward, the Irish sat back until late in the game. By then, however, it was too late. Antonio Di Natale continued to push forward for the Italians, creating chaos for the back four of Ireland. Sean St. Ledger, who would be shown yellow late in the game, was all over the pitch trying to keep the score at just 1-0.
It would be another set piece that put Italy up 2-0, and if the Spanish or Croatians scored, the Italians would be moving on. Pirlo once again swung the ball in, and substitue Mario Balotelli would score one of the best goals of Euro 2012 when he struck home corner while falling down.
It wouldn’t be until the 87th minute, however, until the Italians knew, or at least the fans did, that they would be moving on. Croatia played their hearts out and it was a shame that they did not win or at least draw, because they deserved it.
Now the Italians will wait the winner of Group D, likely to either be France or England. The Italians were good enough to win tonight, but will have to play better if they expect to be moving on.