Euro 2012 goal: Balotelli strikes late for Italy


Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli comes off the bench to double Italy’s lead and secure a 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland to ensure the Azzurri progress to the quarter-finals while Republic of Ireland are eliminated.

Ireland started with purpose but went behind when Antonio Cassano headed in a near post Andrea Pirlo corner after 35 minutes.

An equaliser would have knocked Italy out and their keeper Gianluigi Buffon smartly saved a Keith Andrews strike.

Ireland’s misery was compounded in the 89th minute when Balotelli, side on to goal and with a defender in close attendance, volleyed in from a late corner.

Following Spain’s 1-0 success against Croatia in another Group C match, this booked the Italians’ passage into the quarterfinlas and sparked jubilant celebrations among coach Cesare Prandelli and his players at the final whistle.

“It was a very difficult match. We came up against a team that made us suffer,” said ex-Fiorentina coach Prandelli.

“Today, we knew that heart mattered more than quality. Tonight we created a lot – I hope it will also be like this in the next match.”

Midfielder Daniele De Rossi admitted Ireland, who finished with 10 men after Keith Andrews’s late dismissal, were as tough as any opponents they have faced in the tournament.

He added: “We had to suffer a lot against Ireland – perhaps more than in the first two. We weren’t afraid of them equalising but they hit the long ball and all you need is one piece of good fortune.”

Finishing second in the group, the Italians could face either France or England in the last eight.