Italy qualify for World Cup by beating Czech Republic

By Terry Daley

ROME (Reuters) - Four-times World Cup winners Italy clinched a place at the 2014 finals in Brazil after coming from a goal down to beat the Czech Republic 2-1 and win Group B on Tuesday.

A Giorgio Chiellini header and Mario Balotelli's penalty early in the second half cancelled out Libor Kozak's 19th minute opener for the visitors and moved the Italians on to 20 points, seven ahead of second-placed Bulgaria with two games to play.

Balotelli's 54th minute winner capped a typically eventful night for the striker, who missed three easy first-half chances and was lucky to only be booked for a foul on Tomas Sivok.

Michal Bilek's spirited Czech Republic side were unlucky not to get at least a point against Cesare Prandelli's unconvincing Italy as their night finished on a sour note when Daniel Kolar was sent off for a silly foul on Balotelli in the last minute.

The result means the Czechs remain on nine points and are staring elimination in the face. They have slipped into fourth place behind Denmark who won 1-0 in Armenia and moved on to 12 points to stand one point behind Bulgaria who beat Malta 2-1.

The Czechs must win their last two games away to Malta and Bulgaria next month to have any chance of a playoff place.

(Reporting by Terry Daley; editing by Ken Ferris)

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