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Italy bound for Brazil after Czech turnaround

Italy 2-1 Czech Republic
Giorgio Chiellini's header and a Mario Balotelli penalty confirmed the Azzurri's passage to Brazil despite trailing at the break in Turin.

Mario Balotelli eventually got the better of Petr Čech in Turin
Mario Balotelli eventually got the better of Petr Čech in Turin ©AFP/Getty Images

Italy have confirmed their place in the FIFA World Cup finals, coming from behind to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 and claim top spot in Group B with two games to spare.

The Azzurri trailed to Libor Kozák's 19th-minute strike at the Juventus Stadum. Yet Giorgio Chiellini's header and a Mario Balotelli penalty within the space of three second-half minutes ensured there would be even more reason to celebrate on the night that Gianluigi Buffon matched Fabio Cannavaro's record of 136 caps for Italy.

Petr Čech was at full stretch to palm away a dangerous shot from Balotelli on 12 minutes, and the visitors were in front seven minutes later after Tomáš Rosický sparked a counterattack, feeding Petr Jiráček on the left with a wonderful pass. The full-back's cross was perfectly met by Kozák with his right foot and Buffon was well beaten.

Balotelli wasted two glorious opportunities in quick succession as Italy pushed for the equaliser, hitting the bar from three metres with his right foot and then firing over with his left. The AC Milan man endured more frustration when his powerful header was well saved by Čech. The Czechs, meanwhile, lost Rosický to injury but went close to adding a second when Kozák's shot went just wide just before the interval.

Chiellini equalised with a 51st-minute header from Antonio Candreva's corner, and three minutes later Balotelli was impeded by Theodor Gebre Selassie in the box, stepping up to send Čech the wrong way from the spot. The Czechs, who had Daniel Kolář sent off in the 89th minute, are now fourth in Group B, four points behind second-placed Bulgaria and three adrift of Denmark.