IRELAND held Italy to a goalless draw at Craven Cottage with a positive performance and a late attempt that almost led Martin O’Neill’s side to victory.
The Azzurri produced a less than convincing performance in their penultimate match before heading to Brazil and were left frustrated by an energised Ireland side determined not to endure a third successive defeat on the international stage.
Substitute Stephen Quinn made an immediate impact for Ireland and could have sealed a huge result for his team with a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar in the closing stages of the game.
Cesare Prandelli’s men suffered an early upset in the game after a strong spell in the first ten minutes that saw Ireland’s goalkeeper David Forde save a fine 30-yard effort from Claudio Marchisio, when captain Riccardo Montolivo was stretchered off with a broken leg.
The AC Milan midfielder was involved in a collision with Reading defender Alex Pearce, and is likely to miss Italy’s trip to the World Cup.
Italy began the better team and kept Forde under pressure in goal, but Ireland grew in confidence and a burst forward from Aiden McGeady, Wes Hoolahan and Shane Long down the right side for their first counter attack forced a corner.
McGeady found Anthony Pilkington in the box who heeled Ireland’s first chance of the game straight into Salvatore Sirigu’s arms.
A free-kick for Ireland in the 21st minute could not be converted when Pilkington curled a powerful ball into the path of Sirigu who made contact and sent it over the bar.
The Norwich midfielder had another opportunity to find the net on the half-hour mark when he weaved through three Italian defenders, but he could not find the space to strike a clean shot and his attempt did not prove a challenge for the Italian goalkeeper.
Alberto Aquilani who came on as a substitute for the injured Montolivo appeared nervy giving away possession of the ball too easily in the centre third, but the former Liverpool midfielder was only on the pitch for only a short while himself before being replaced by Marco Parolo after appearing to take a knock to the head head.
The half drew to a close with an impressive sequence of passes from 21-year-old Marco Verratti, to the delight of the Italian fans.
A good piece of defensive work from Ireland captain John O’Shea, who maintained pressure on Ciro Immobile and blocked an attempt from close range, took Ireland into the dressing rooms on an even footing.
The second half began with Hoolahan playing Shane Long into the box for what could have been the first goal of the game, but a poor finish sent the ball into the arms of Sirigu for another routine save.
In the following moments Pilkington also missed a chance to put Ireland in the lead with a powerful 25-yard strike, before O’Neill substituted him for James McClean.
It looked as though the Azzurri had cause for celebration after Immobile found the back of the net from an impressive Guiseppe Rossi cross to the back post, but the flags were raised for offside much to the delight of the Ireland fans.
Roma’s Daniele De Rossi gave the Italians a boost after coming on for Thiago Motta with a surge forward landing the ball at the feet of Rossi, who’s weak attempt made an easy save for Forde.
With only minutes remaining a fine run from McClean down the left flank led to Ireland’s final chances to seal a win, with Quinn striking the bar and McGeady unable to net the rebound.
Ireland head to the US on Wednesday where they will play friendlies against Costa Rica in Philadelphia and Portugal in New Jersey.
Italy’s next game is against Luxembourg in Perugia on Wednesday before the team head to Brazil to begin their World Cup campaign.
Ireland: David Forde; Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea (Captain), Aiden McGeady, David Meyler (Paul Green), Shane Long (Simon Cox), Anthony Pilkington (James McClean), Wes Hoolahan (Stephen Quinn), Alex Pearce, Jeff Hendrick
Subs: Joe Murphy, Richard Keogh, Stephen Kelly, Damien Delaney, Shane Duffy, Ciaran Clarke, Daryl Murphy, Kevin Doyle, Conor Sammon, Ian Lawlor, Anthony Stokes
Italy: Salvatore Sirigu; Matteo Darmian (Ignazio Abate), Gabriel Paletta, Mattia De Sciglio, Leonardo Bonucci, Thiago Motta (Daniele De Rossi), Marco Verratti, Riccardo Montolivo (Alberto Aquilani(Marco Parolo)), Claudio Marchisio, Guiseppe Rossi (Alessio Cerci), Ciro Immobile (Antonio Cassano)
Subs: Gianluigi Buffon, Mattia Perin, Antonio Mirante, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Christian Maggio, Manuel Pasqual, Andrea Ranocchia, Antonio Candreva, Andrea Pirlo, Romulo, Mario Balotelli, Mattia Destro, Lorenzo Insigne
Referee: Michael Oliver