Super Mario strike safeguards Italy’s quarter-final passage


Italy advanced to the quarter-finals of the European Championship with a decisive victory that ensured the battling Republic of Ireland failed to collect a solitary point and ended their tournament on the same disappointing note with which it began.

Antonio Cassano headed Italy in front during the first half and Mario Balotelli doubled their lead in second-half stoppage time, while Ireland midfielder Keith Andrews was sent off late on for two bookable offences.

The Azzurri will now meet the winner of Group D, one of either France, England or Ukraine, while Ireland may yet experience a change of direction before their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign starts, despite the overall success of manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

When Cassano headed in from Andrea Pirlo’s corner, Ireland were left with another considerable challenge. The talented striker’s effort was cleared by Damien Duff but not before passing the line and the goal rightly stood.

In the second half, Andrews was dismissed after a booking for his aggressive reaction to conceding a free-kick and substitute Balotelli superbly volleyed in the winner from another corner in the 90th minute.