Northern Ireland's impressive start to UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying continued as they resisted heavy second-half pressure to hold Italy to a goalless draw in Group C.
Nigel Worthington's side had won in Slovenia last month and produced another solid display to frustrate their visitors, although it might have been even better had David Healy or Steven Davis been able to convert presentable opportunities. Northern Ireland will nevertheless travel to the Faroe Islands in good heart for their next game on Tuesday, when Italy play Serbia.
The best chances of the opening period arrived at either end in quick succession just past the half-hour. First, Chris Brunt curled in a cross that Healy, unmarked, headed wide of the back post from close range. Moments later, Marco Borriello outpaced the home defence to reach Andrea Pirlo's perfectly-weighted long ball but his shot was blocked by Maik Taylor, Antonio Cassano curling the rebound narrowly wide.
Italy finished the first half the stronger and Domenico Criscito's cross found Stefano Mauri, who headed straight into Taylor's arms. Cassano then found space down the left and picked out Daniele De Rossi for a powerful shot from the edge of the box that was blocked by Northern Irish defenders.
Mauri also sent a left-foot volley over early in the second period as Italy increased the pressure. Pirlo shot over when well placed and Cassano forced Taylor to tip over a dangerous effort, before Giorgio Chiellini went close with another header from Pirlo's corner. Northern Ireland stood firm, however, and might have snatched the points themselves only for Emiliano Viviano to save a low Davis shot in the final minute.
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