Spain and Italy progress to Euro 2012 quarter-finals

Italy overcame Republic of Ireland 2-0 to finish second while Spain beat Croatia 1-0 to top Euro 2012 Group C.

Italy overcame Republic of Ireland 2-0 to finish second
Italy overcame Republic of Ireland 2-0 to finish second

Croatia 0 - Spain 1

Substitute Jesus Navas scored a late goal to send Spain through to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals as Group C winners but only after a mighty scare against Slaven Bilic's unfortunate Croatia.

Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic both had earlier chances to break the deadlock and Croatia kept pushing deep into injury-time as they sought the equaliser that could still have sent them through.

Resolute in defence and surging down the flanks on the counter-attack, Croatia kept the Spaniards at bay for long periods and Vicente Del Bosque's team will be extremely relieved to have come out on top of their group.

In a poor first period, Fernando Torres came closest to breaking the deadlock when he brought a good save out of Croatia goalkeeper Stipe Pletikosa in the 23rd minute.

Although Spain dominated most of the early possession, chances were at a premium, with Jordi Alba blazing wide and Andres Iniesta poking a shot goalwards where it was saved by Pletikosa.

Torres skipped past Gordon Schildenfeld in the 23rd minute before firing straight at the keeper from a tight angle, then moments later Sergio Ramos drilled a long-range effort which Pletikosa held.

But after Gerard Pique shot over the bar, Croatia replied with some pressure of their own, Danijel Pranjic shooting low at Iker Casillas and Mandzukic blazing over the bar from just inside the box.

Croatia had a loud penalty appeal turned down in the 27th minute when Mandzukic's charge down the right flank was brought to an end by a crashing challenge from Ramos on the edge of the box, but referee Wolfgang Stark waved Croatian appeals away.

Knowing they were likely to need a goal to give them a chance of reaching the last eight, Croatia made a brighter start to the second half with a dangerous corner from Rakitic punched away by Casillas.

Iniesta almost threaded a ball through to Torres in the 52nd minute but Croatia were still brighter, and Mandzukic was clearly showing no ill effects from his first-half knock as he stretched the Spanish defence.

And Croatia came agonisingly close to taking the lead in the 59th minute when Luka Modric beat Ramos on the right and crossed into the box where Rakitic's low header was brilliantly saved at point-blank range by Casillas.

Perhaps shaken by the near-miss, Del Bosque responded by replacing the ineffective Torres with winger Navas, as his side sought desperately to regain control of the game.

But Croatia came close again in the 69th minute when two of their substitutes combined, Ivan Perisic finding space on the left to loft a cross which floated inches too high for Nikica Jelavic in front of goal.

Del Bosque introduced Cesc Fabregas who failed to get his shot off in a crowded box in the 78th minute, then Sergio Busquets missed a glorious chance with 10 minutes to go when he hesitated in the box and was dispossessed by Croatia captain Darijo Srna.

Fabregas was having a major influence in calming Spanish nerves and he made the crucial move in the 87th minute when he lobbed Pletikosa to send Iniesta clear, and he squared for substitute Navas to tap home the simplest of chances.

Teams:

Croatia Pletikosa, Vida (Jelavic 66), Corluka, Schildenfeld, Strinic, Vukojevic (Eduardo 81), Rakitic, Srna, Modric, Pranjic (Perisic 66), Mandzukic.

Subs Not Used: Kelava, Simunic, Buljat, Badelj, Vrsaljko, Dujmovic,

Kalinic, Kranjcar, Subasic.

Booked: Corluka, Srna, Strinic, Rakitic, Mandzukic, Jelavic.

Spain Casillas, Arbeloa, Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi (Negredo 89), Busquets, Alonso, Silva (Fabregas 73), Torres (Jesus Navas 60), Iniesta.

Subs Not Used: Valdes, Albiol, Javi Martinez, Juanfran, Pedro, Mata,

Llorente, Santi Cazorla, Reina.

Goals: Jesus Navas 88.

Ref: Wolfgang Stark (Germany).

 

Italy 2 - 0 Republic of Ireland

In the other match, Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli fired Italy into the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after a tense victory over the Republic of Ireland.

The AC Milan striker headed home from Andrea Pirlo's 35th-minute corner before substitute Balotelli added a second at the death to finally kill off Ireland's brave resistance.

Spain's 1-0 win over Croatia in Gdansk meant the reigning champions topped Group C, but Italy went through in second place.

On a night when only victory would do for Cesare Prandelli's men, they came up with the goods against an Ireland side whose exit from the competition was confirmed last week.

But while Italy dominated for long periods, they were unable to find a way past the green shirts for a second time to leave the Republic, led by winger Damien Duff on his 100th appearance for his country, in with a chance until Balotelli eventually calmed the nerves.

Giovanni Trapattoni's side, who had midfielder Keith Andrews sent off late on, staged a late blitz on the Italian goal which came up only just short, and although they restored some of their battered pride, they will return to Dublin tomorrow having failed to collect a single point.

Duff and his team-mates ran out wearing black armbands to mark the 18th anniversary of the shootings of six men in Loughinisland, County Down, as the victims watched the national team play Italy at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States.

That day, Ray Houghton's goal secured a famous victory over the Italians, and the latest generation set out in determined fashion in an attempt to repeat the feat.

They might have taken the lead straight from the kick-off when Kevin Doyle ran on to Pirlo's careless pass, but defender Giorgio Chiellini dispossessed him before he could shoot.

Ireland safely negotiated the opening five minutes which had previously proved so problematical in the tournament, but as the deep-sitting Pirlo started to pull the strings, found themselves having to defend for dear life.

But where that had been beyond them in their opening two games, this time they found the resilience and organisation which had brought them to the finals.

The two sides traded blows in their own particular fashions, the Italians stylish and patient, the Irish more direct and abrasive, but with neither goalkeeper being called upon at all.

Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger both had to get in good blocks to prevent Antonio Di Natale from troubling Shay Given, and the Leicester defender had to be on his toes to dispossess the same man as he threatened to carve his way into the penalty area once again.

But with 10 minutes of the first half remaining, Italy started to turn the screw.

Glenn Whelan's misplaced pass allowed Cassano to pick out Di Natale and when he rounded Given on the right side of the penalty area and shot from a tight angle, St Ledger once again came to the rescue on the line.

But the reprieve was only temporary and after Given had conceded a corner by spilling Cassano's snapshot, Prandelli's men edged ahead.

Pirlo's near-post delivery was met with a glancing header by Cassano and although Given got a hand to it, he could not keep the ball out of the net.

The sense of relief among the Italian fans, who were dwarfed in number by their Irish counterparts, was palpable, and will have been shared both on the pitch and the bench.

However, Prandelli's players returned knowing they still had to get through another 45 minutes and hope things elsewhere continued to go for them if they were to progress.

It would have been 2-0 within three minutes of the restart had St Ledger not once again denied Di Natale with a vital block, and Given had to get down well to keep out Cassano's side-footed effort seconds later with Italy looking to kill the game off.

Daniele De Rossi curled a 51st-minute shot over the angle of bar and post with Ireland looking more open than they had at any point until then.

But there was a flicker of hope for the Republic when Robbie Keane forced Ignazio Abate to concede a corner which Dunne headed wide.

Given had to repel another Di Natale effort at his near post with 55 minutes gone, but Andrews tested Gianluigi Buffon from distance for the first time on the hour.

Sensing that their time had come, the Republic launched a sustained assault on the Italian goal, prompting Prandelli to introduce wild card striker Balotelli with 15 minutes left on the clock.

But Buffon had to be at his best to keep out Andrews' drilled 79th-minute shot from Duff's back-heeled free-kick, with Ireland throwing everything they had at Italy.

However, it all turned sour at the death as Andrews, who had earlier been booked for a foul, received a second yellow card for dissent seconds before Balotelli hooked home a Pirlo corner to secure the win.

Teams:

Italy Buffon, Abate, Barzagli, Chiellini (Bonucci 57), Balzaretti, Pirlo, Marchisio, Thiago Motta, De Rossi, Di Natale (Balotelli 74), Cassano (Diamanti 62).

Subs Not Used: Sirigu, Maggio, Ogbonna Obienza, Giaccherni, Borini,

Montolivo, Giovinco, Nocerino, De Sanctis.

Booked: Balzaretti, De Rossi, Buffon.

Goals: Cassano 36, Balotelli 90.

Rep of Ireland Given, O'Shea, Dunne, St. Ledger, Ward, McGeady (Long 65), Whelan, Andrews, Duff, Keane (Cox 86), Doyle (Walters 76).

Subs Not Used: Westwood, Kelly, McShane, Gibson, Hunt, O'Dea, Green,

McClean, Forde.

Sent Off: Andrews (89).

Booked: Andrews, O'Shea, St. Ledger.

Att: 44, 416

Ref: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).

 

 

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