Italy’s Mario Balotelli (C) receives the red card from the referee after a foul on Czech Republic’s Theodor Gebre Selassie, (2nd R) during the World Cup group B qualifying soccer match in Prague, Czech Republic.
PRAGUE – AC Milan bad-boy Mario Balotelli was dismissed as 10-man Italy widened their lead in World Cup qualifying Group B to four points after being held to a goalless draw by third-placed Czech Republic in Prague on Friday.
In a game dominated by Italy’s Juventus-based backline, the most remarkable moment came 72 minutes into the game when Balotelli showed the petulance only he is capable of as he was sent off after picking up two bookings within three minutes.
The furious 22-year-old was seen lashing out at anything within striking distance as he left the field while coach Cesare Prandelli urged him to sit calmly on the bench.
Despite Balotelli’s latest madcap antics, Italy moved a little further ahead at the top of their group. With six games played, Italy have 14 points, three ahead of Bulgaria and five ahead of the Czech Republic.
Propelled by tireless team captain Tomas Rosicky, the Czechs created more scoring chances throughout the game, forcing Italian keeper and team captain Gianluigi Buffon to pull out a few spectacular saves.
Stumbling up to now in the group with just six goals scored in five games before Friday’s tie, the hosts showed little respect facing the 2006 world champions.
Buffon, whose wife is a former Czech model, spared his side’s blushes after stopping first-half shots by Vladimir Darida, Petr Jiracek and Lazio striker Libor Kozak.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli bet on six Juventus players for the starting line-up, complete with Milan duo Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy up front.
The squad seemed perfectly happy with a point as they focused on defence throughout the game, creating no scoring chances and barely troubling Chelsea keeper Petr Cech.
In the second half, Buffon stopped two shots by Kozak and Jiracek hit the post from a very sharp angle before Daniel Kolar sent his shot just inches past the Italian post in stoppage time.
Italy are now heading to Brazil for the June 15-30 Confederations Cup. Both teams will play one game when the qualifying campaign resumes in September before clashing again in Italy on September 10.