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Alberto Gilardino Sends Italy To Defend Their Title

DUBLIN, IRELAND - OCTOBER 10:  Alberto Gilardino of Italy celebrates scoring during the FIFA 2010 World Cup European Qualifying match between the Republic of Ireland and Italy at Croke Park on October 10, 2009 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Phil Cole/Getty Images)
Giancarlo RinaldiCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2009

If you could distill and bottle the essence of getting through tournament qualification the hard way it should probably be called "Italia".

There seems to be nothing Italy like better than sneaking into a competition by the back door, side door or, sometimes, through a half-open window.

In some ways, Saturday night's World Cup ticket-booking draw was comfortable by the standards of the Azzurri. After all, it ensured qualification with a game to spare.

How much more Italian it would have been to go to Wednesday night needing a win against Cyprus. Even then, they would have probably creeped through with a draw after Ireland were held to a surprise draw with Montenegro.

The tifosi have become accustomed to such escapades.

Instead, it was a late, late strike from Alberto Gilardino which ensured Marcello Lippi got the chance to defend the title he won in 2006. It looked pretty unlikely after Italy had gone behind with three minutes left to play.

It was nice for the Fiorentina man to get the goal. Maybe he will see more playing time in future.

In truth, Giovanni Trapattoni's Irish side did not seem to defend their lead quite as hard as they might have done. The news that Cyprus had thrashed Bulgaria meant his troops were sure of a play-off place anyway. A draw kind of suited both sides.

Despite a qualification campaign which rarely hit the heights and an embarrassing Confederations Cup, Italy should still be contenders in South Africa. Their history and tradition dictates that much.

And, rest assured, if they do make progress towards the later stages of the competition it will never be by a straightforward route.

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