"The tough victories are the best ones," said Antonio Cassano as he reflected on Italy's 2-0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland which earned the Azzurri a place in the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals as Group C runners-up.
Eight years ago, at the same stage of the tournament in Portugal, Cassano scored a winning goal in added time against Bulgaria which he thought was enough to take Italy through. Instead his joy turned sour as Italy became the first team to be eliminated from a EURO with five points – a fate they were desperate to avoid tonight.
They did, although it was a tense affair in Poznan with much also riding on Spain's game against Croatia in Gdansk. The holders' late goal means they advance as group winners, while Cesare Prandelli's side will tackle the Group D winners in Kyiv on Saturday. "I couldn't wait for the final whistle in the other match, but then it finally ended, and I'm very happy," Cassano said.
The 29-year-old opened the scoring with a flicked header in the 35th minute and was a lively presence throughout before being substituted to warm applause in the 63rd minute. His performance caught the eye of Petit, a runner-up with Portugal in 2004 who nominated the AC Milan striker as his Carlsberg Man of the Match. "He's a fantastic player with great vision and during my time here at the EUROs I've seen him put in a lot of effort," said the Portuguese.
Cassano added: "The tough victories are the best ones. The most important thing was to get through the group stage and now we will see who we will face on Sunday. We don't fear anybody. The important thing was to qualify, and now the knockout stage starts and we will face anybody."
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