Italy's Antonio Cassano, center, talks to teammates Antonio Di Natale, left, and Sebastian Giovinco during a training session at the Euro 2012 soccer championship in Krakow, Poland, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (AP/Gregorio Borgia)
Advancing to the quarterfinals isn't the only positive news for Italy. Now, the Azzurri strikers are also starting to score.
Both Antonio Cassano and substitute Mario Balotelli found the target on Monday in the 2-0 win over Ireland that booked Italy a spot in the last eight of the European Championship.
"That's a great sign, we needed them," Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon said. "While they had great previous matches, they hadn't scored. With their two goals everything was much more straightforward."
Italy's forwards struggled in opening 1-1 draws with Spain and Croatia, and also didn't find the net in three pre-tournament friendlies — all losses.
"Now we start a new Euros — absolutely," Cassano said after the victory over Ireland.
Italy will meet the Group D winner Sunday in Kiev — with France, Engand and co-host Ukraine among the possible opponents.
"I'm not creating any goals at all," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said. "My goal is simply a squad that knows how to play football, otherwise you don't go very far." Prandelli will have to ponder a change in defense, with Giorgio Chiellini likely out for the quarterfinals with a left leg muscle injury. Chiellini exited the Ireland match early in the second half.
"These injuries never have immediate recovery times, but we'll wait for the tests that we'll carry out over the next couple of days," Italy team physician Enrico Castellacci said.
Italy used a three-man defense in its opening two games, then switched to a more traditional four-man backline against Ireland, which allowed Daniele De Rossi to return to his natural position in midfield.
When Chiellini came off, Leonardo Bonucci replaced him alongside Andrea Barzagli in central defense, and that could be the pairing for the quarterfinals.
"Let's wait to assess our fatigue and see who our opponent is, but the four-man backline satisfied me," Prandelli said. "Maybe that's all we needed to find some confidence and balance. And this way our quality in midfield emerges, even when we're struggling. But whoever our opponent is, we've got to play with the same spirit."
In attack, Prandelli needs to decide whether to put Balotelli back in the starting lineup. The 21-year-old striker appeared hesitant against Spain and Croatia and lost his starting spot to Antonio Di Natale against Ireland. Di Natale came off the bench and scored against Spain but produced little in the final group match.
"We haven't even savored this victory and we're already talking about the next game. I'm not thinking about that yet," Prandelli said. "I'm just thinking about getting my players back fit and in training. The idea of having all these forwards ready to go could be a bonus for us."
Italy also reached the quarterfinals at Euro 2008, losing to Spain on penalties.
"The good and the bad thing about this squad is that we're able to play balanced matches with any squad, both the strongest ones and the ones that are weaker than us," Buffon said. "That's why penalties are always a possibility."