Spain's 1-0 win over Croatia meant Italy finished second in Group C yesterday and will play the Group D winners in the last eight while Ireland finish bottom with three defeats. While Italy were worthy winners, Ireland coach Giovanni Trapattoni will have been bemused to see his side concede both goals from corners.
But Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will also have been concerned by his side's dip in physical condition in the final 20 minutes, just as it did in their previous two games.
Ireland, who showed much willing but little quality, finished the game a man down after Keith Andrews was sent off late on by referee Cuneyt Cakir. Having had their gameplan thrown into disarray by conceding early goals in their previous two matches, Ireland at least seemed fired up from the off.
Several times Ireland broke at pace and had the Italian defence back-pedalling but they spurned their own chances through either a wayward pass, poor decision-making or running down a blind alley.
Italy soon took command although Daniele De Rossi's left-foot volley from outside the box was a touch over-ambitious. Selected ahead of Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale found space in the box three times only to see his shots blocked by Irish centre-backs Richard Dunne and Sean St Ledger.
Di Natale was giving Italy what Prandelli had asked for as he got in behind the defence to latch onto Cassano's through ball before rounding goalkeeper Shay Given and shooting goalwards, only to see St Ledger recover to hack the ball off the line.
Moments later Cassano set his sights from distance and although Given had his body behind the ball, he spilled it and was relieved to see it bounce behind for a corner.