An early goal from Libor Kozak threatened to spoil the party but Italy were good value for the victory, second half goals from Giorgio Chiellini and the ever influential Mario Balotelli sealing qualification.
It was a night of double celebration for Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon who equalled Fabio Cannavaro’s record of 136 appearances for Italy.
Italy dominated the early exchanges but the Czech Republic caught their hosts with a sucker punch on the counter attack 18 minutes in.
Tomas Rosicky released Petr Jiracek down the left flank and his perfectly weighted cross was slammed home by a grateful Kozak.
Italy were then guilty of squandering a hatful of chances, Balotelli the major culprit, first hitting the bar from four yards out before skying the ball over after Petr Cech fumbled an Andrea Pirlo shot straight into his path.
Cech then had to be at his best to beat out a close range Balotelli header 10 minutes before the break although the Milan man will again feel he should have done better.
Italy continued to press in the second half and it was an error from Cech that got them back into the game, the keeper getting nowhere near to the corner and Chiellini heading into an unguarded net.
Three minutes later they were ahead. Theodor Gebre Selassie brought down Balotelli and the Milan striker sent Cech the wrong way from the spot to give Italy the lead they required.
From then on they were never seriously troubled and booked qualification with two rounds to spare. But defeat for the Czechs leaves them with a mountain to climb as they dropped to fourth place below Denmark and four points off second placed Bulgaria. To compound their misery, substitute Daniel Kolar received his marching orders for a second bookable offence with just two minutes left on the clock.
PRE-MATCH: Gianluigi Buffon receives a silver salver celebrating his record-equalling 136th appearance for Italy.
18’ - GOAL: The Czech Republic go ahead after great work from Rosicky, Jiracek and Kozak with a neat finish.
23’ - CROSSBAR: Balotelli who somehow contrives to hit the bar from about four yards out.
24’ - MISS: Balotelli misses another sitter after Cech spills Giaccherini’s shot.
36’ - SAVE: Another great chance spurned as Balotelli plants his header straight at Cech
51’ - GOAL: Chiellini heads Italy in front
54’ - GOAL: Balotelli sends Cech the wrong way after being brought down in the box
89’ - RED CARD: Kolar is sent off for another bookable offence
MAN OF THE MATCH
Mario Balotelli (Italy): May have missed a couple of great early chances and got himself booked but was always a handful for the Czech defence and scored the goal that sent Italy to Brazil
Italy: Buffon 6; Bonucci 6, De Rossi 7, Chiellini 7; Maggio 6, Montolivo 7, Pirlo 7, Pasqual 6; Candreva 7, Giaccherini 6; Balotelli 8. SUBS: Osvaldo 6, Motta 6, Ogbonna 6.
Czech Republic: Cech 6; Gebre Selassie 5, Suchy 6, Prochazka 6, Sivok 7, M Limbersky 6; Plasil 6, Darida 6, Rosicky 5; Jiracek 6, Kozak 7. SUBS: Kolar 4, Vanek 6.
THE MATCH IN A TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Mario Balotelli
- Gianluigi Buffon
- Czech Republic
- Giorgio Chiellini
- Petr Cech