Diego Godín's header on 81 minutes was the death knell for ten-man Italy as a 1-0 defeat to Uruguay spelled the end of their FIFA World Cup Group D campaign.
The Club Atlético de Madrid defender got a firm head to Gaston Ramirez's corner from the left to leave Gianluigi Buffon with no chance. It was an agonising end for Cesare Prandelli's side, who had all-but neutralised Uruguay as an attacking force with eleven men, before defending resolutely with ten after Claudio Marchisio was dismissed for a high challenge on Egidio Arévalo on 59 minutes.
Needing only a draw to progress as Group D runners-up, Prandelli's side took a safety-first approach in Natal, three central defenders turning the screw on Luis Suárez. They dominated possession in the first half, but chances were rare and insubstantial at either end. Andrea Pirlo checked Fernando Muslera was awake with a free-kick from distance on 12 minutes, while Buffon saved from Suárez and Nicolás Lodeiro in swift succession as Uruguay carved out space on 33 minutes.
The second half initially took a similar shape, the replacement of Italy striker Mario Balotelli further blunting their cutting edge. Cristian Rodríguez fired across the face of Buffon's goal and wide after an exchange of passes with Suárez, but within seconds Marchisio was sent off, fundamentally altering the DNA of the fixture. Buffon manned the defences on 66 minutes, making a tremendous save to deny Suárez as the Liverpool FC man bustled into the box, but could do nothing about Godín's effort.