Sports Mole's commentary of Italy's potentially decisive World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic in Turin.
By Liam Power, Reporter Filed: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 19:15 UK
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 at 13:54 UK
Italy went into tonight's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic knowing that victory would secure safe passage to next summer's finals in Brazil.
The Czechs travelled to Turin desperate for a positive result and saw their hopes boosted when Libor Kozak broke the deadlock after 19 minutes, following a fine break from the visitors.
Italy responded and turned the match in their favour with two goals in three minutes early in the second half.
First Giorgio Chiellini found the corner with a header from close range, before Mario Balotelli made no mistake with an assured strike from the penalty spot.
Look back a night to savour for Cesare Prandelli's side with Sports Mole's minute-by-minute commentary below.
7.17pmEvening Azzurri fans. Thanks for joining Sports Mole for live coverage of a vital World Cup qualifier between Italy and the Czech Republic. Both sides are desperate for a positive result this evening in Turin, after contrasting results in their latest group game last Friday.
7.19pmItaly ground out a crucial 1-0 win over Bulgaria in Palermo last Friday, despite a rather abject performance. Alberto Gilardino's goal proved enough to move Cesare Prandelli's side to within one result of World Cup qualification, with three points tonight enough to confirm the Azzurri's place in Brazil next summer.
7.21pmThe Czech's are fighting for their World Cup future in Turin tonight, after falling to a frustrating 2-1 defeat against Armenia last weekend. Denmark's win in Armenia earlier tonight means that the Czech's are three points away from second place and a playoff place before taking to the field tonight, with just two group games left to play.
7.23pmItaly were missing a key trio through injury and suspension for the Bulgaria game on Friday, but all three are back and available selection tonight. Mario Balotelli is the most notable returnee, while Riccardo Montolivo and Pablo Osvaldo also add weight to Prandelli's options in midfield and attack.
7.26pmDespite those positives Prandelli has problems in defence ahead of this evening's crunch qualifier, following injuries to both full-backs against Bulgaria. Ignazio Abate and Luca Antonelli both pulled up with problems in that match and will take no part tonight, leaving Prandelli with a selection headache in defence.
7.29pmBREAKING TEAM NEWS! Italy's defensive conundrum has led to Prandelli moving Daniele De Rossi into what looks like a three-man defence tonight, while Balotelli returns to lead the line in attack. A full look at both starting lineups will follow in just a few moments.
7.36pmWell it looks like Prandelli has reverted to a 3-5-2 formation this evening, a system the Juventus contingent in his squad will be very familiar with. Balotelli and Montolivo have come in for Lorenzo Insigne and Thiago Motta, while Emanuele Giaccherini and Christian Maggio also return down the flanks.
7.39pmThe Czech Republic have recalled Vladimir Darida to their starting XI tonight, after he missed the Armenia match through suspension. An adventurous lineup from the visitors features Libor Kozak and Vaclev Kadlec in attack, supported by Arsenal playmaker Tomas Rosicky in an advanced midfield role.
7.42pmBefore we go any further we must mention Azzurri stalwart Gianluigi Buffon, who wins a record-equalling 136th cap for Italy this evening. The Juve stopper was nothing short of sensational against Bulgaria last Friday, and knows another clean sheet tonight could well see Italy secure World Cup qualification.
7.44pmPREDICTION! As Buffon gets a silver platter for his record-equalling appearance there is just time to predict an exciting encounter tonight, which I think Italy will just edge to book their place in Brazil. I'll go for Balotelli to mark his return with a goal in a 2-1 win for the Azzurri, perhaps from the penalty spot.
2 minItaly get the match underway through Balotelli and Giaccherini, shooting from left to right. An early diagonal from Pirlo towards Candreva fails to find its intended target, but the Lazio man is able to recover and win a corner kick inside two minutes.
4 minA late offside flag against Balotelli ends a strong early spell of possession for Italy, who had successive corners cleared.
6 minBalotelli shows strength and intelligence to win a free kick for the hosts around 30 yards from goal, but quick crosses from Pirlo and Maggio are both cleared. Italy then build down the right through Candreva, who cuts inside before a cross blocked by Limbersky wins another corner kick, which is hooked to safety by Rosicky.
9 minMaggio overlaps down the right for Italy and curls a superb cross towards the far post, which is just too strong for a late run from Giaccherini. Italy are then nearly caught cold at the back as Kozak looks to race onto a flick forward from Rosicky, but is rather harshly judged to have drifted into an offside position.
12 minSAVE! Balotelli has just come close to punishing the Czechs for a defensive horror show. It was Sivok who committed the error, dallying in possession before his clearance was charged down. Balotelli picked up the pieces to drive low towards the bottom corner, with Cech reading the danger to tip clear.
15 minThe Czechs are living dangerously here, as Cech comes quickly off his line to hammer clear. Italy recycle possession and cross towards Balotelli, who takes a whack in the face from Prochazka after failing to make contact with a pass played just behind the forward.
17 minRosicky finds Kozak with a clever pass which allows the forward to just give his teammates a breather by holding the ball up, but when Plasil arrives on the scene his poor touch ends any chance of a break for the visitors. A lively start, which it must be said with Azzurri have controlled.
19 minA clincial, quite magnificent Czech break has against the run of play put the Czech ahead. It was Kozak who applied the finish to a counter started by Rosicky, meeting a superb ball into the penalty area from Jiracek with a measured finish. The Aston Villa forward was at full stretch to meet the cross and applied a controlled volley past Buffon into the corner. Advantage to the visitors!
21 minBonucci has just clattered Kozak with a frustrated bodycheck, bundling the goalscorer over without winning the ball. Luckily for the Juve defender the referee seems to have completely missed that challenge as play continues, before the ball is put out so Kozak can receive treatment.
24 minOFF THE BAR! Balotelli has just managed to smash off the woodwork completely unmarked from six yards, what a chance for the hosts to respond almost instantly. The forward had plenty of time to control a chipped cross from Giaccherini, but got too much on his effort, which bounced clear after making contact with the crossbar.
27 minYELLOW CARD! This match is becoming surprisingly stretched as Darida fails to take advantage of fine forward busts from the Czechs, who look dangerous every time they counter. Balotelli then finds himself booked after sliding into a challenge on Sivok, and is perhaps lucky not to be dismissed after appearing to stamp on the defender with studs showing.
30 minDe Rossi and Balotelli are both caught offside chasing a long forward pass. It has not been the Milan striker's night so far as Prandelli comes to the edge of his technical area with some words of wisdom, perhaps to calm the forward's temper more than anything following that early caution.
33 minDe Rossi is next to show signs of frustration after being penalised for a push on Rosicky, with his angry protests earning a telling off from the referee, but no caution thankfully.
36 minPrandelli is out then again but this time to berate De Rossi, after an aimless diagonal out wide comes nowhere near picking out Candreva, who made a run free on the right flank.
39 minSAVE! Balotelli is denied again but this time only by a superb reflex stop from Cech, who tipped over a powerful header from close range. Balotelli looked destined to net there after a sumptuous cross from Pirlo, but the Azzurri's search for an equaliser continues.
41 minSUBSTITUTIONS:Tomas Rosicky has been forced to leave the field early with what looks like a muscle problem, which will make familiar reading for Arsenal and Czech fans. Kloar has quickly come on as his replacement but that will prove a huge blow for the visitors, who have lost the player that launched a number of potent breaks from midfield early on.
43 minMontolivo's speculative drive from distance flies wide to draw a fee whistles from the home crowd, who can scarcely believe their side are behind as we head towards stoppage time in the first half, with Candreva's elbow on Kozak drawing a stoppage for treatment.
45 minSAVE! Cech takes no chances with a skimming shot from Candreva, which from 20 yards was probably just going wide of the far post. The Czech keeper decides it's not worth the risk, tipping behind to concede a corner kick, which he clears with a double-fisted punch.
45 min+2MISS! A wonderful Czech break has just seen the visitors go within inches of doubling their advantage. Darida's burst out wide saw a cross into the penalty area dummied brilliantly by Kolar into the path of Kozak, but his effort from 16 yards was always rising and went just beyond a static Buffon's near post. A lucky escape for the Azzurri!
8.39pmWell that was quite a first 45 minutes in Turin, which Italy largely controlled but enough to stop the Azzurri going into the break 1-0 down. The Czechs have looked lively on the counter and burst forward brilliantly midway through the first period, breaking the deadlock thanks to a clinical finish from Kozak.
8.42pmPrandelli will wonder how Balotelli failed to find the target in that first half, after at least two gilt-edged chances went begging. Most notably the forward smacked the crossbar unmarked from point-blank range, with the Azzurri now needing at least two goals after the break to secure World Cup qualification.
8.45pmThe Czechs have something to hold onto when play resumes but may rue the loss of Rosicky, who went off before the break clutching his right thigh. The visitors will sit deep and look to counter in the second half, why change a formula which proved successful before the break?
8.48pmBENCH WATCH! Italy can take heart from having a whole host of options to call upon in reserve if an equaliser proves elusive in the second half. Alberto Gilardino scored against Bulgaria last Friday, while Pablo Osvaldo is back from suspension and waiting in the wings. Add El Shaarawy, Diamanti and Insigne into the mix and Prandelli has plenty to ponder when play resumes.
8.51pmSUBSTITUTION: Both sides are back out and it looks like Italy will make a change before the break. Pablo Osvaldo is coming on to partner Balotelli in attack, replacing Giaccherini. Time for two in attack for the Azzurri, with a win enough to confirm World Cup qualification.
47 minThe Czech's get the second half back underway but immediately concede possession in a dangerous area, with Balotelli shooting quickly to force a save from Cech, who turns a drive from distance behind. It looks like the Azzurri have switched to a 4-4-2 to accommodate Osvaldo, with Montolivo conceding a free kick for pushing when Pirlo's corner comes in.
49 minPlasil proves that the Czechs still carry a threat on the counter as he wins a corner kick for the visitors, which is punched clear by Buffon. Expect this match to open up the longer Italy chase an equaliser!
54 minItaly have the equaliser and it is one Petr Cech will want to forget quickly. After keeping Balotelli brilliantly in the first half the keeper flaps at a Pirlo corner, allowing Chiellini to take advantage and nod in at the far post. 1-1 in Turin.
55 minPENALTY TO ITALY! It's all gone horribly wrong for the Czechs as Gabre Selassie bundles over Balotelli inside the area. A stone-wall penalty which Balotelli will take, with an exemplary record from the spot.
56 minBalotelli takes three strides and confidently sends Cech the wrong way, turning the match on its head in the space of two minutes as Italy go ahead. All the Czech Republic's hard work has been undone in the blink of an eye, as Suchy brings down Balotelli just outside the area to concede a free kick. Pirlo will like the look of this one.
59 minYELLOW CARD! Pirlo's free kick clips wide off the wall as the match starts to get a little scrappy, partly due to Czech frustration. Kolar sums up that anger with a needless late lunge into the back of Montolivo, which earns the substitute a deserved caution.
62 minCandreva sends a stray pass out of play just as Maggio looked to have found space out wide. The Lazio winger then just fails to control a clever flick from Osvaldo, and appears to be struggling to have a positive impact on the match tonight.
65 minCHANCE! A squeak of an opening for the Czechs as neat build-up finds Darida with time inside the penalty area. From a tight angle he attempts to find Kozak's late dart to the far post but the power of the cross-come-shot evades him. Still a job to do here for Italy!
68 minJiracek kicks the ball out of play for Balotelli to receive treatment, but the winger is quick to react and drive forward when play resumes. With little on he attempts a low drive from range, which sails into the grateful arms of Buffon at his near post.
71 minOsvalso produces another superb piece of close control as Suchy concedes a corner kick on the far side, which the Czechs clear quicky. Time is fast running out for the visitors to muster a response here.
74 minPasqual has gone down bleeding from a cut to his head after a clash of heads with Kozak. The Azzurri midfielder looks dazed and will not be able to continue, with blood streaming from his forehead, with Kozak booked for his part in the collision.
77 minSUBSTITUTION: Ogbonna has been quickly brought on to replace Pasqual, forcing Prandelli to shuffle his pack. It looks like De Rossi has been pushed into midfield, with Ogbonna coming onto fill in at full-back, a position he does not normally occupy.
80 minNearly a superb team goal for Italy as Pirlo flicks an intelligent little pass into Osvaldo's path. The Southampton forward does well to meet the pass at full pelt but cannot force his effort on target.
82 minLimbersky lunges in on Candreva to hand Italy a free kick just wide of the penalty area, which Pirlo will take. His cross is headed away but only as far as Candreva, who sends a volley through a crowded penalty area but wide of the near post.
85 minMontolivo allows the Czech's to regroup after conceding a cheap free kick in central midfield. Italy clear the lines and look to break quickly with a long ball over the top for Candreva to chase, with play pulled back for a foul on Balotelli before play can develop.
87 minSUBSTITUTION: Italy make a late chance to shore things up in midfield, with Montolvio replaced by Thiago Motta for the final few minutes.
89 minRED CARD! Czech substitute Kolar has picked up a second yellow card to get his marching orders, after clipping Balotelli from behind. That leaves the visitors with 10 men heading into stoppage time, as Italy enjoy a prolonged spell of possession in midfield.
90 min+2The announcement of four minutes added time gives the travelling Czech fans some late hope, but Chiellini is on hand to smash a hopeful cross into touch.
90 min+4Balotelli is fouled protecting the ball deep inside his own half, which should be just about the final action of this match.
9.42pmITALY QUALIFY FOR THE 2014 WORLD CUP! A hard-fought victory has confirmed Italy's place in next summer's World Cup finals, where Prandelli's side are sure to be strong contenders.
9.45pmThe Czech's briefly threatened a shock victory in Turin, but two goals in as many minutes from Chiellin and Balotelli got the job done in the end for the Azzurri.
9.48pmThat just about does it for Sports Mole's coverage from Turin, with top spot in Group B secured for Italy. Thanks for your time and be sure to stick with our main site for comprehensive coverage from a busy night of World Cup qualifiers across Europe.