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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.
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. FC Internazionale Milano striker Balotelli, one of the new faces, silenced the home crowd at the Bloomfield Stadium when he fired a 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 on 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 Motti Iwanir's side who now needed to score times three to advance.
Iwanir 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. The Beitar Jerusalem FC striker's 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.
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