The Azzuri arrived in Poznan with one goal in mind, win today's match against Ireland and ensure their spot in the quarterfinal.  Even with the win they would need some help from Spain to earn qualification, but Italy had to focus on the task at hand.  Ireland looked up for the game and their fans were in full voice, commemorating the scene by performing "the Poznan."  The teams started out by trading blows, Italy looking composed and in control, while Ireland attacked directly with fury.  Despite several early ventures forward, timely interventions from defenders prevented either goalkeeper from being tested.

Sean St. Ledger had several of those interventions, the best came when Antonio Cassano rounded keeper Shay Given and put a shot on target from an impossible angle.  St. Ledger arrived just in the nick of time to prevent the opening goal for Italy, and his presence throughout the night caused headaches for Italian attackers.  St. Ledger was helpless to prevent the eventual Italian opener that came a few minutes later of Andrea Pirlo's corner.


Pirlo's corner found the head of Antonio Cassano, whose glancing header went off the hand of Shay Given and into the back of the net.  Damien Duff, celebrating his 100th appearance for Ireland, attempted to clear the ball just after it had crossed the line.  Despite looking shaky in the early stages, this goal could hardly be blamed on Given, it was a goal that came thanks to countless hours on the training pitch.  Ireland has been repeatedly exploited on set pieces throughout the tournament and tonight provided two more examples of this.


As the match entered the late stages of the second half it became a nervy affair for Italian fans.  Despite dominating the game, if Italy conceded and finished with a draw they would be eliminated.  Just as the news arrived in Poznan that Italy would be going through, thanks to a late goal from Jesus Navas in Spain's match against Croatia, Mario Balotelli but the game beyond doubt.  His spectacular overhead volley, while being fouled by John O'Shea, will be remembered as one of the goals of the tournament.  


Balotelli's stoppage time goal was another example of the striker's most amazing attribute, sprezzatura.  Sprezzatura is an Italian word meaning "the perfect conduct or performance of something without apparent effort".  When Balotelli rose in celebration he appeared to say something directed at parties unknown before having his mouth covered by Leonardo Bonucci.


The target of Balotelli's abuse could have been many, Balotelli received racial abuse and a banana thrown his way during the Croatia match.  He was booed as he entered the pitch by the Irish fans.  Additionally, it could have been his manager Cesare Prandelli, who had chosen Balotelli as a substitute following a reported knee injury in training.  After watching his replacement Antonio Di Natale waste several chances, there's no doubt it must have been frustrating to the young striker.


Balotelli's frustration before the goal was only exceeded by Keith Andrews.  Andrews turned in a fiery performance for Ireland and after picking up a yellow card in the first half, earned his second for dissent in the 89th minute.  He displayed his frustration by booting the match ball into the technical area before exiting the pitch.  Andrews' frustration was likely shared by many Irish fans, those who had refused to accept their fate.


Italy will now face the winner of Group D on Sunday.  With an extra day of rest over their opposition, Italy will look to take full advantage of any fatigue felt by their opponents.