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Cassano strikes sink Northern Ireland in Italy

Italy 3-0 Northern Ireland
Antonio Cassano scored twice as Group C winners Italy made it eight wins out of ten and ended with the best defensive record across all nine sections.

Antonio Cassano (right) scored two goals for Italy
Antonio Cassano (right) scored two goals for Italy ©Getty Images

Antonio Cassano struck twice as Group C winners Italy ended their qualifying campaign with a 3-0 victory against Northern Ireland in Pescara.

The AC Milan forward found the net with excellent finishes either side of the break before Gareth McAuley's own goal rounded off the Azzurri's eighth success from ten outings in the section. The result also brought Cesare Prandelli's men their eighth clean sheet and, having conceded just twice along the way, they ended the qualifying campaign with the meanest defence across all nine groups.

The first chance of the encounter fell to the hosts on 19 minutes, when Giorgio Chiellini headed wide from close range following a Sebastian Giovinco corner from the left. Two minutes later, Daniele De Rossi found Cassano behind the visitors' back line with a precise long ball and the forward turned a wonderful right-footed volley inside the far post.

Only a superb diving save by Gianluigi Buffon then prevented Northern Ireland from equalising just before the half-hour, the Juventus No1 keeping out a Ryan McGivern header. Before the match, the goalkeeper had joined up with Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini and Dino Zoff to receive a commemorative cap and medal from UEFA for having made 100 or more international appearances.

Italy failed to carve out any further opportunities in the first half but registered again shortly after the break. This time, Alberto Aquilani was the provider for Cassano, who buried a precise low shot inside the far post, giving Maik Taylor no chance. Three minutes later, the goalscorer received a standing ovation as Prandelli took him off to hand Pablo Osvaldo his Italy debut.

Northern Ireland substitute Warren Feeney came close to reducing the deficit when he shot over from a dangerous position, and Taylor then had to dive right to palm away a Riccardo Montolivo effort. The visiting No1 could do nothing to keep out McAuley, though, his team-mate deflecting the ball past him while trying to intercept Federico Balzaretti's pass to Chiellini.

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