Italy defeat 10-man France

France 0 Italy 2

France 0 Italy 2

Italy beat 10-man France at Zurich’s sold-out Letzigrund stadium to advance to the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 thanks to Holland’s win over Romania.

Andrea Pirlo put the world champions in front in the 25th minute when converting from the penalty spot after Eric Abidal had brought down Luca Toni inside the area.

Abidal was shown a straight red card, leaving the French with a mountain to climb following the earlier loss of Franck Ribery to injury.

Italy led but were still made to sweat before Daniele De Rossi’s 62nd minute free-kick took a deflection off Thierry Henry and struck the back of the net.

The turn of events completed a terrible tournament for Les Bleus, who were held to goalless draw against Romania in their Group C opener before being hammered 4-1 by Holland.

Italy, who finish second behind the Dutch in their pool, take on Group D winners Spain on Sunday in Vienna but the Azzurri will have to do without key players Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, both of who were booked tonight earning suspensions.

France coach Raymond Domenech dropped captain Lilian Thuram, who looked sluggish against Holland, with Abidal taking his spot in defence. But the move backfired.

France did have the better start, earning two corners in the opening minutes but it was Italy who should have taken the lead when Toni failed to capitalise on Abidal’s poor clearance and fired wide of the near post.

Domenech was forced to make his first substitution shortly after when Ribery sustained a left ankle injury and had to be stretchered off the pitch, with Samir Nasri taking his place.

Claude Makelele was then needed to make a vital clearance at the far post from Christian Panucci’s close-range header as Italy got closer.

Karen Benzema’s powerful strike from the edge of the area went inches wide of Gianluigi Buffon’s near post and in the 21st minute, Pirlo played a one-two with Antonio Cassano before playing a wonderful ball inside the box to Simone Perrotta, who was unable to control the pass.

Disaster struck for Les Bleus seconds later.

Slovakian referee Lubos Michel pointed to the penalty spot and Pirlo coolly struck to the top hand corner.

The Italians made sure to impose their numerical superiority after Abidal’s sending off and should have extended their lead by the half-hour mark but Toni wasted three good chances, much to the relief of the French fans.

The Azzurri’s failure to capitalise on their opportunities could have cost them dearly as, shortly after, France almost equalised.

Jeremy Toulalan’s precise pass found Thierry Henry, who surged inside the area before firing inches wide of the far post.

France keeper Gregory Coupet then provided a stunning save to deflect Fabio Grosso’s free-kick onto his far post.

France did not give up but although they showed plenty of character, they failed to find the finishing touch to level the score before half-time.

Les Bleus picked up where they left off after the re-start and Benzema fired wide off the far post before Henry’s effort forced Buffon to dive to his left.

News that Holland had taken the lead in the other group game in Bern reverberated around the stadium.

But it failed to inspire the Azzurri, who had mustered little after the break and were lucky to extend their lead in the 62nd minute.

De Rossi’s free-kick saw the ball deflect off Henry’s left foot and deceive Coupet, who had dived towards the right post and into the back of the net.

France could have got back into the game in the 73rd minute but Buffon made a stunning one-handed save to deny Benzema’s curled effort.

Despite their opponents’ brave attempts, Italy held on for a crucial victory.

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