Coming into Tuesday’s Group B match, Italy knew that a win over the Czech Republic would secure their spot in next summer’s World Cup, with two qualifying games to spare. It was all set up for them to celebrate at the Juventus Stadium in Turin, as captain and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was honored before the game for equaling Fabio Cannavaro for the record of 136 appearances with the ‘Azzurri.’
Italy came out and took control of the game by controlling 70 percent of the ball possession in the first half, but despite having the clear advantage in ball possession and retention, it was ineffective when it came time to exploiting this advantage. In the first 45 minutes of the game, Italy had 13 shots, but only three of those were on target. Despite only having had 30 percent of the ball possession in the first half, the Czechs looked more dangerous, as their counter attack caught the Italian defense flat footed a few times.
This was most noticeable when the Czechs would take a 1-0 lead 19 minutes into the game, as former Lazio striker Libor Kozak would be the one to put the Czechs ahead. While the Italians had been wasteful with their chances in the first half, it was anything but in the second half, as they made the Czechs pay for two defensive zone errors. The first Italy goal to tie the game came courtesy of defender Giorgio Chiellini heading in a corner kick, beating Petr Cech who had come out late to the ball.
Then, three minutes after the tying goal, Italy would go up 2-1, as Mario Balotelli calmly scored from the penalty spot after he had been fouled in the penalty area by a Czech defender. While Italy would not add to their lead, they did not have to, as the Czechs rarely trouble the Italians and, in the end, Italy took home the three points and secured qualification to the World Cup.
This will be Italy’s 18th time playing in a World Cup, and their 14th consecutive time being participants at a World Cup, with the last one which they missed having played in being in 1958. Aside from that fact, Italy clinched qualification earlier than they have in the past, as a result of securing qualification with two qualifying games to spare. While the Azzurri did not always look great during World Cup Qualifying, it was efficient and did enough to have accumulated 20 points through eight games thus far. In games against Czech Republic and Bulgaria, it found ways to come out with draws while they ensured that they did enough in home games, like tonight and last Friday against Bulgaria, to get all three points, and thus allow them to qualify for Brazil on Tuesday.