Italy escape Group of Death

Azzurri book Spanish showdown

Italy secured second spot in Euro 2008 Group C and a quarter-final against Spain with a 2-0 victory over 10-man France in Zurich.

Andrea Pirlo's 25th-minute penalty and Daniele De Rossi's deflected second half free-kick were enough to secure the three points, and Romania's defeat to Holland ensured Italy survived.

Pirlo stroked home calmly from the spot after Luca Toni had been brought down by Eric Abidal, who was duly given his marching orders.

France's night got off to a bad start in the seventh minute when Toni's Bayern Munich team-mate Franck Ribery was carried off on a stretcher after landing awkwardly on his left ankle challenging Gianluca Zambrotta for the ball.

Marseille playmaker Samir Nasri came on as a replacement, with Ribery clearly in pain.

Moments later, Les Bleus had Claude Makelele to thank for clearing Christian Panucci's header off the line following a Pirlo corner.

France right winger Sidney Govou, who started brightly, then screwed an effort way wide from distance, although a pass to fellow Lyon colleagues Karim Benzema or Francois Clerc may have been a better option.

Then, just before the half-hour mark, Pirlo's ball down the middle to Toni was inch-perfect and the striker was brought down by Abidal in the box.

Red card

The Barcelona defender was the last man and got a straight red card - and his misery was compounded when Pirlo netted from the spot.

France started the second half well despite being a man down, but De Rossi's 35-yard free-kick deflected off Thierry Henry and past the stranded Gregory Coupet to leave Les Bleus too much to do, although the lively Benzema's curling effort did force Gianluigi Buffon into a fine save.

There was some bad news for the Italians, however, with Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso both receiving bookings that will force them out of Sunday's quarter-final.

For Italy, searching for their first European title in 40 years, this victory was consolation after the world champions failed to get past the first round at Euro 2000.

For France elimination, with just one goal scored, was the unwelcome prize for a campaign dogged by reported internal strife, player fatigue and controversy over injured captain Patrick Vieira.

This game was billed as 'our final' by France boss Raymond Domenech, and he made three changes from the side swept aside by Holland, with defenders Lilian Thuram and Willy Sagnol replaced by Abidal and Francois Clerc, and Benzema joining Henry in attack with midfielder Florent Malouda dropping to the bench.

Roberto Donadoni unveiled an attacking line-up, dropping Alessandro del Piero in favour of Euro 2008 debutant Antonio Cassano and picking Gennaro Gattuso in favour of Mauro Camoranesi in midfield.

Ribery blow

France lost Ribery, their best player up to now, early on in proceedings as the Bayern star was stretchered off on a buggy after going over on his left ankle in a tackle on Zambrotta.

Play resumed with a corner for Italy and only quick thinking by France midfielder Makelele kept out Panucci's low angled header and Coupet then did well to deny Pirlo's curling free-kick from the right flank.

The game's turning point came in the 24th minute when Toni, at full stretch trying to latch on to a lob, was tackled and felled from behind by Abidal in the box.

Slovakian referee Lubos Michel had no hesitation in pulling out a red card, with Pirlo blasting his shot high into the left hand corner.

Abidal's sending off evoked wretched memories for France of the last time these two countries met in a major competition, in the World Cup final, when Zinedine Zidane was given his marching orders for headbutting Marco Materazzi.

That though came in the closing minutes and with over an hour's play left, Domenech decided to shore up his defence, taking off Nasri for Jean-Alain Boumsong.

The Azzurri celebrated the news that Holland had taken the lead over the Romania when De Rossi struck a free-kick which flew past Coupet after the ball was diverted on its course by Henry's foot.

Then not for the first time in this competition Buffon performed miracles to tip out a Benzema special from the edge of the area, which was heading into the top far corner.

The stuffing though had been knocked out of France and Italy were never going to be denied, the resounding win keeping alive their dream of a repeat of their 1968 success.