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Italy through with win over Czechs

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June 22, 2006 22:17 IST

Italy clinched top spot in World Cup Group E on Thursday, eliminating the 10-man Czech Republic with a 2-0 victory.

A 26th minute header from substitute Marco Materazzi gave the Italians the lead before the Czechs were reduced to ten men just before the break with the dismissal of Jan Polak.

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

Twice in the early stages Nedved tested his Juventus club-mate, Italy keeper Gianluigi Buffon with long-range efforts.

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

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 Materazzi.

Nine minutes after entering, 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.

The Italians grip on the game got tighter just before the break when Polak was dismissed for a second bookable offence for a foul from behind on Totti.

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

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.

At other end Nedved forced Buffon into action again after latching on to a through ball from Stajner and then minutes later produced a thundering drive which had the Italy keeper at full strength.

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