Lippi looks for omens as Italy scrape through

MILAN - Holders Italy needed a little bit of luck to qualify for next year's World Cup finals and coach Marcello Lippi hopes some other omens will point towards a successful campaign in South Africa.

Substitute Alberto Gilardino struck in the last minute to give the Azzurri a 2-2 draw against second-placed Ireland in Dublin on Saturday and seal their passage to the finals as Group Eight winners.

With the final group game against Cyprus in Parma on Wednesday, a normally cautious Lippi allowed himself to dream of a repeat of Italy's 1982 and 2006 World Cup triumphs.

"The only other times Italy have qualified with a game to spare was in 1982 and 2006. We won't talk about it, but we know how we finished up. But I'd say it's a good omen," Lippi told Italian television.

A draw was a fair result after an entertaining game and Italy showed a real desire that has not always been apparent in the qualifying campaign, especially after slipping 2-1 behind following Sean St Ledger's 87th minute header.

Fiorentina forward Gilardino was particularly motivated to grab the leveller having failed to properly mark the Irishman.

"We qualified a bit riskily but it is more fun that way," he said. "In the end we deserved a draw, for 2-1 I lost a bit of concentration. This is my most important goal for the Azzurri."

The future looks bright with captain Fabio Cannavaro poised to be cleared in a doping row while Andrea Pirlo is beginning to look comfortable in his new role behind the strikers.

Claudio Marchisio, injured for the Dublin game, adds versatility to the midfield and Juventus team mate Mauro Camoranesi has looked revitalised in recent Italy matches.

Sampdoria's Angelo Palombo has failed to really take his chance in the centre of the park but most of the squad is well-set for South Africa, unless the mercurial Antonio Cassano can persuade Lippi that more creativity is needed.

No defeats so far in qualifying, just like playoff-bound Ireland, bodes well but at times Italy have looked completely out of ideas.-

Some poor performances mean they will not be considered favourites next year but given they were also viewed as outsiders in 2006, Lippi may see it as another good omen.