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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Italy eliminates the Czech Republic

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In one of the most important results of the tournament, Italy won the Group E this morning, and eliminate the 10-man Czech Republic with a 2-0 victory in Hamburg.

Thanks to a 26th-minute header from substitute Marco Materazzi, the Italians the lead before the Czechs were reduced to 10 men just before the break with the dismissal of Jan Polak.

Milan striker Filippo Inzaghi rounded goalkeeper Petr Cech to roll home the second in the 87th minute as the Czechs threw everyone forward.

It's very important to remember that the Czechs sorely missed injured forward Jan Koller and suspended striker Vratislav Lokvenc, and it was left to midfielder Pavel Nedved to provide the attacking creativity.

Buffon dealt well with a dipping drive but could only parry out many Nedved efforts - although the Italy keeper did well to smother Marek Jankulovski's follow-up.

It's fair to mention that Italy's problems increased in the 17th minute when they were forced into a change - Alessandro Nesta, suffering from what appeared to be a recurrence of his troublesome muscle injury, limping off to be replaced by defender Materazzi.

The good luck entered with him. Nine minutes after joining the match, the big central defender headed the Azzurri in front with his first goal for the national side leaping superbly above Polak to power a header past Petr Cech.

Italy's grip on the match got tighter just before the break when Polak was dismissed for a second bookable offence for a foul from behind on midfielderTotti.

That left Karel Brueckner's side down to 10 men for a second half in which they needed to score two goals to keep themselves in the World Cup, and the Czech coach made a switch at the break bringing on attack-minded Jiri Stajner for veteran Karel Poborsky.

And then Totti, still looking far from his best, was given space for a long range effort that Cech pushed round the post in the 53rd minute.

In the other match, Ghana beat the United States and qualify for the round of 16. NOw Italy will play the second of group F, and Ghana's rival will most likely be Brazil.

Group E final positions:

Italy (7)
Ghana (6)
Czech Republic (3)
USA (1)

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