Two second half goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Mario Balotelli were enough for Italy to secure a 2-1 win at home to the Czech Republic, guaranteeing their place in the group stages at the next World Cup. The Czechs' defeat means they're four points adrift of a qualification playoff place with only two games left, and need a miracle if they're to qualify.
The hosts were the more threatening side in the opening minutes, enjoying the lion's share of possession and pushing their retreating visitors back into their own half. However, it worryingly looked like Mario Balotelli had left his shooting boots back in Milan, squandering the first clear-cut chance of the game after Christian Maggio charged down a poor Czech clearance in the box after 12 minutes.
Despite their control over the game, the Azzurri struggled to create chances, and just inside 20 minutes, they were made to pay. A goal out of nothing came after Jiří Jarošík burst down the left and delivered a great low cross, met in the box by the flying Libor Kozak after some suspect Italian defending. The sliding finish saw the Czech Republic silence the Juventus Stadium, with Gianluigi Buffon conceding on his record-equalling 136th cap.
Italy should've been level less than ten minutes later, when Emanuele Giaccherini's shot from outside the area was unconvincingly spilled by Petr Čech. Balotelli was on hand to break through the defence and claim the loose ball, though he managed to fire over the bar when clean through. Balo's evening didn't get any better after he met a wonderful Andrea Pirlo cross in the area, with his header kept out by a miraculous save from Čech.
The least Italy deserved at the halftime break was to be level, though it didn't take them long after the restart to finally found the net. It did take a set-piece, with Candreva's corner met in the area by Giorgio Chiellini, who headed in the Azzurri equaliser. A couple of minutes they were ahead for the first time, after Balotelli was clumsily tripped in the area. Despite his first half profligacy, he maintained his perfect penalty record by rolling in Italy's second.
The Czech Republic started to play more proactively for the first time in the match after going behind, with both Kozak and Jarošík having efforts on goal from outside the area. The former arguably had their best opportunity at equalising with just under 15 minutes remaining, though the tall striker headed wide from inside the box.
A red card for sub Daniel Kolář deep into the second half summed up Czech frustrations, and while Italy can start booking their flights to Brazil, the Czech Republic's hopes of qualification look slim at best.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele De Rossi, Leonardo Bonucci; Manuel Pasqual (Angelo Ogbonna 78'), Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo (Thiago Motta 86'), Christian Maggio; Emanuele Giaccherini (Pablo Osvaldo 46'), Antonio Candreva; Mario Balotelli
Goals: Chiellini (51'), Balotelli (pen 54')
Czech Republic: Petr Čech; David Limberský, Marek Suchý, Tomáš Sivok, Theodore Gebre Selassie (Michael Rabušic 77'); Václav Procházka; Tomáš Rosický (Daniel Kolář 38'), Vladimír Darida (Ondrej Vaněk 56'), Jaroslav Plašil; Libor Kozak, Jiří Jarošík
Goals: Kozak (19')
Red cards: Kolář (89')