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Pazzini fires Italy past Slovenia to finals

Italy 1-0 Slovenia
Substitute Giampaolo Pazzini's 85th-minute strike against Slovenia earned Italy a seventh win in eight Group C matches and secured their finals place.

Pazzini fires Italy past Slovenia to finals
Pazzini fires Italy past Slovenia to finals ©UEFA.com

A second 1-0 victory in five days proved enough for Italy to earn qualification for UEFA EURO 2012 with two Group C games to play, substitute Giampaolo Pazzini scoring the winner five minutes from time against Slovenia in Florence.

Cesare Prandelli had said before the game that he was dreaming of celebrating qualification at the home of his former club side ACF Fiorentina. But the Azzurri left it late to grant his wish with Pazzini, another former Fiorentina man, firing the ball under the bar after the Slovenia defence had failed to clear a cross by Claudio Marchisio from the right.

Italy, who have now not conceded for 599 minutes in the section, might have had a more comfortable evening had Giuseppe Rossi scored when breaking clear after 20 seconds. He eluded Slovenia's offside trap in racing on to Daniele De Rossi's long ball but Jasmin Handanovič turned away the striker's shot with his left foot.

With his cousin Samir suspended, the stand-in Slovenia goalkeeper was relieved to see a close-range header by Riccardo Montolivo finish just wide soon later. There was another close call after 18 minutes when Rossi, sent clear by Antonio Cassano's pass, fired a left-foot shot wide with only Handanovič to beat.

At the other end Dare Vršič tested Gianluigi Buffon from outside the penalty box but failed to angle his powerful shot sufficiently, allowing the Italy goalkeeper to punch it away. Buffon also had to turn away a curling Robert Koren effort but it was Italy who continued setting the pace and only a last-gasp sliding tackle by Boštjan Cesar prevented De Rossi from scoring from a Montolivo pass.

After struggling to break down the well-organised Slovenia defence at the start of the second half, Italy created three great opportunities to score in one minute. Andraž Kirm's goalline header foiled De Rossi, then Handanovič made a reflex save to keep out a close-range shot by the AS Roma midfielder before Rossi fired over on the volley. Just when it looked like the Azzurri might be frustrated, though, Pazzini had the last word and Prandelli can now start planning for Italy's fifth successive UEFA European Championship. Slovenia are in fourth, three points behind second-placed Serbia, who they meet in their only remaining game on 11 October hoping to still be in contention.