Cassano gives Italy precious halftime lead

Antonio Cassano flicked in a header after 35 minutes to give Italy a 1-0 halftime lead in their final Euro 2012 Group C game against Ireland on Monday, a match they have to win to have any chance of reaching the quarter-finals.

Italy began the game on two points, two behind Croatia and Spain who were playing each other in Gdansk, but initially struggled to impose themselves on an Irish team showing admirable spirit despite being out of contention after two defeats.

But after Antonio Di Natale went close twice, Cassano struck, his glancing header form Andrea Pirlo's corner being half-stopped by Shay Given but bouncing over the line before Damien Duff hacked it clear.

A 1-0 win could be enough to send Italy through but a complicated qualification scenario hangs over the group.

(Writing by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ed Osmond)