Italy enter Euro 2008 quarter-finals after beating France (Lead)

June 18th, 2008 - 6:26 am ICT by IANS  

Zurich, June 18 (DPA) A penalty from Andrea Pirlo and a deflected long-range shot from Daniele De Rossi helped world champions Italy book their place in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 with a 2-0 win over France Tuesday in the Azzurri’s final Group C match in Zurich. Pirlo put Italy in front after 25 minutes after Eric Abidal hauled down Luca Toni in the area, for which the French defender saw a straight red card, while De Rossi made it 2-0 on 62 minutes when Thierry Henry deflected his effort past the stranded Gregory Coupet.

France’s miserable evening was compounded by the news that midfielder Franck Ribery was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg following an innocuous tussle with Gianluca Zambrotta.

Having suffered heavy defeats at the hands of the Netherlands and drawn with Romania, both Italy and France went into their clash needing a win and also for Romania to fail to beat the already- qualified Dutch in the other group game in Berne in order to progress.

Marco van Basten’s team duly obliged, beating Romania 2-0 thanks to second-half goals from Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Robin van Persie, meaning Italy now meet Spain Sunday in Vienna for a place in the semi-finals while the Dutch take on Sweden or Russia a day earlier in Basle.

France, who also lost to Italy in the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, go home.

“Basically, we had a bit of luck but now we have to take full advantage of it,” said Italy coach Roberto Donadoni. “We have to continue on like this. I never had any doubts, I knew it would turn out like this.”

Donadoni’s side started the stronger and could have been in front as early as the fourth minute when Abidal, who replaced the dropped Lilian Thuram, made his first catastrophic defensive error of the evening to allow Luca Toni clean through, but the Bayern Munich striker skewed his shot wide.

After just seven minutes France lost Toni’s club team-mate Ribery, probable their best player in the tournament to date, with Samir Nasri coming on as his replacement.

Italy continued to pressurise a hesitant France defence with a Christian Panucci header cleared off line by Claude Makelele and a Pirlo pass nearly finding Simone Perrotta before Abidal’s last-man foul on Toni saw France reduced to 10 men and Italy go in front through Pirlo’s subsequent spot-kick.

Toni nearly doubled his side’s lead three minutes later but his acrobatic effort went just wide while Fabio Grosso also hit the bottom of the post with a brilliant free-kick.

France’s only chance of note in the half fell to Henry on 33 minutes but he failed to find the target.

Italy used their numerical superiority to dictate the pace in the second half without creating many chances and it took Henri’s cruel deflection of De Rossi’s shot to give the world champions some breathing space.

France could find no answer and the closest Raymond Domenech’s side came to scoring was through a Karim Benzema shot with 18 minutes remaining but Gianluigi Buffon saved well.

“This is a great relief for us,” said De Rossi. “We are now qualified that’s the important thing.”

Henry, on the other hand, bemoaned his country’s luck.

“I think that this Euro just didn’t go our way,” he said. “We had Franck Ribery’s injury, the penalty, the red goal and then the deflected goal.” dpa tm gb

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