The Azzurri had two 1-1 draws and put themselves in a position where qualification was no longer in their hands. They needed a victory against the already-eliminated Ireland and for Croatia-Spain not to end in a stalemate, particularly a 2-2 result.
Cesare Prandelli shelved the 3-5-2 system he’d used in the previous two matches and returned to the 4-3-1-2 that got them through qualifying for Euro 2012. Mario Balotelli shook off a knee injury, but was still benched in favour of Antonio Di Natale with Thiago Motta the top point of a diamond midfield. Andrea Barzagli made his first appearance of the tournament after recovering from a calf strain, moving Daniele De Rossi back to midfield, while Ignazio Abate (with five stitches in his forehead from a training ground accident) and Federico Balzaretti replaced Christian Maggio and Emanuele Giaccherini.
Di Natale had a great chance and spun round in the box to shoot, but Sean St Ledger was in the right place to charge it down with his shoulder.
The Udinese veteran squirmed between three defenders until St Ledger managed to scramble clear.
The Azzurri still needed a third to be sure of going through even if Croatia equalised against Spain, but Balotelli’s shot was deflected wide on the counter. The team had to wait around on the pitch to see what the final score from Gdansk was.
Italy 2-0 Ireland
Scorers: Cassano 35 (It), Balotelli 90 (It)
Italy: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini (Bonucci 57), Balzaretti; De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio; Thiago Motta; Cassano (Diamanti 63), Di Natale (Balotelli 74)
Republic of Ireland: Given; O’Shea, St Ledger, Dunne, Ward; McGeady (Long 65), Whelan, Andrews, Duff; Doyle (Walters 76), Keane (Cox 86)
Ref: Cakir (Tur)
Sent off: Andrews 89 (Ir)