Italian fears that they would fall victim to a biscotto — or a biscuit — stitch up in Group C’s other game also failed to materialise as holders Spain defeated Croatia 1-0 to top the group and leave the Croatians to take an early flight home.

Goals by Antonio Cassano and substitute Mario Balotelli were on target for the Azzurri, who would have crashed out of the competition had Spain and Croatia drawn their final match 1-1, sending both of them through instead.

Ecstatic: Skipper Gianluigi Buffon and teammate Leonardo Bonucci celebrate after Italy book quarters spot. PICs/AFP

Skipper and 2006 World Cup winning goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon said: “I was convinced that Spain, to whom we owe huge thanks, would behave like a great team.”

In reality, had Spain not managed their late win, Italy would have won the group on head-to-head records.

Straight after the game, Italy did not know if they had qualified. Midfielder Claudio Marcisio said the wait to find out the other score was interminable.

“It was surreal, I saw Gigi (Buffon) come up for the last corner and I thought Spain and Croatia were drawing 1-1. In fact that wasn’t the case but that minute before the news came through never ended.”