Wednesday, 15 October 2008

[U21 Play-off] Balotelli plots Italy's progress

Italy will set their sights on a record sixth title after advancing to the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship on the back of a 3-1 victory against Israel in Tel-Aviv.

Israel 1-3 ItalyInter striking sensation Mario Balotelli struck twice in the first half with goals in the fourth and 25th minutes to ease any nerves Pierluigi Casiraghi's side may have had after a goalless draw in Ancona on Saturday.

Although Toto Tamuz pulled one back for the home side nine minutes into the second half, Ignazio Abate restored the Azzurrini's two-goal advantage with 15 minutes to play to confirm their place in Sweden next summer.

Casiraghi made seven changes as injuries and suspensions took their toll and he hit upon a winning formula as Italy seized command from the outset. Balotelli, one of the new faces, silenced the home crowd at the Bloomfield Stadium when he fired a stunning 25-metre free-kick in just the fourth minute into the roof of the net, leaving Ohad Levita no chance in the Israel goal.

Having failed to heed that warning Israel's defence allowed Balotelli too much time and space on the edge of the area after 25 minutes and he made the most of the opportunity to double his side's advantage with another powerful strike. What had begun as an uphill struggle against the five-time champions became a vertical climb for the hosts who now needed to score three times without reply to advance.

The home side introduced Tal Ben Chaim for Lior Rafaelov at the restart, but again it was Italy who threatened most, Davide Lanzafame's header beating Levita only to bounce back off the post.

Israel were given a glimmer of hope eight minutes after the break when another substitute, Yoval Avidor, was impeded in the penalty area allowing Tamuz to try to reduce the arrears from the penalty spot. But his spot-kick was saved by Andrea Consigli, but he was first to the rebound and scored at the second attempt.

Lifted by the goal the home support tried to rally their team, but as Israel pushed forward Italy caught them on the break, Abate running half the length of the pitch to seal the tie with a fine solo effort.

"We put in an extraordinary performance and the lads did brilliantly," Casiraghi said after the match. "It was a splendid and fully deserved victory, we can say it is down to the collective team effort.

"I have a group of very mature players and in June we are going into the Euros. We'll prepare for this with a calm and clear-headed approach, knowing we can count on some extraordinary players," he added.

2009 UEFA Euro U21 Championship Play-off Second leg Results:
Tuesday 14 October
Belarus 2-0 Turkey (Agg: 2-1)
England 2-2 Wales (Agg: 5-4)
Finland 2-1 Austria (Agg: 3-3, Pens: 4-2)
Spain 3-1 Switzerland AET (Agg: 4-3)
Wednesday 15 October
France 0-1 Germany (Agg: 1-2)
Israel 1-3 Italy (Agg: 1-3)
Serbia 1-0 Denmark (Agg: 2-0)

The line up for the 2009 tournament is now complete and now all of the seven qualifiers, along with the hosts Sweden, will look ahead to the draw which takes place on Wednesday 3 December in Gothenburg.

Source: UEFA

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