It took a long time in coming following two hours which had produced the first scoreless draw of Euro 2012, but Italy deservedly overcame England 4-2 on penalties…
….after dominating a fascinating but frustrating quarter-final which had an all too familiar outcome for the Three Lions. Another sadly predictable conclusion from an English perspective was their inability to keep hold of the ball, with the Italians, conducted throughout by a magnificent performance by Andrea Pirlo in midfield, enjoying 64 percent of the ball, quite often under little or no pressure, on a sobering night for anyone concerned by the dearth of technically sound operators holding an English passport.
Allesandro Diamanti, who spent a season in the Premier League with West Ham and winning only his second cap, scored the decisive penalty to send Cesare Prandelli’s men into a semi-final meeting with Germany but in truth it would have been a huge injustice on the Azzurri not to continue in the tournament and they should have comfortably won out long before but would have had nobody to blame but themselves had their wastefulness been punished.
Danielle De Rossi, who would later be taken off and is a major doubt for Thursday’s semi-final, came as close as any to breaking the deadlock in normal time after only four minutes when his looping left-footed volley from outside the area spun away from Joe Hart’s desperate dive but rebounded off the post and away. England’s best, and only real opportunity arrived just moments later when one of the extremely few occasions they moved the ball well resulted in Glen Johnson, who was arguably their best performer on a galling night, finding the ball in his feet just ten yards out after being involved throughout a fine move on the right flank but he could generate no power in his scooped effort although Gianluigi Buffon still did well to bat the shot away one-handed before smothering at the second attempt.
Mario Balotelli, who had a quiet build up to the game, as ever, when he compared himself to Peter Pan, must have left his shooting boots in Never Never Land as the Manchester City striker was most frequently culpable for the match remaining goalless for so long after missing at least three very presentable chances, most notably when he dallied in possession after being put clean through by Pirlo’s perfectly flighted ball over the top in the closing stages of the first half and allowed John Terry to make up ground and block the shot after the Chelsea defender’s error had kept Balotelli in an onside position.
De Rossi wasted another fine chance when he found himself free less then ten yards out to the right of goal at the beginning of the second period but sliced wide. Then Riccardo Montolivo was also guilty of a glaring miss when he blasted over from deep inside the area after Hart had again denied Balotelli as Italy demonstrated the stranglehold they had on the game and continued to do so when Diamanti hit the same post as De Rossi in extra-time with what was probably intended as a cross and then as the game inevitably headed toward a penalty shootout Antonio Nocerino’s close range header into the roof of the net was rightly ruled out for offside.
Montolivo was the first to succumb to the pressure from twelve yards when he fired wide after Balotelli, finally, and Steven Gerrard had hit their spot-kicks successfully to the goalkeeper’s right, as did Wayne Rooney with the same outcome. The moment of the night then arrived as Pirlo ignored Hart’s attempts to distract the classy playmaker from the goal line and nonchalantly chipped his penalty down the centre of the goal as the goalkeeper flung himself right. It seemed to be a pivotal moment, even moreso when Ashley Young struck the bar directly after Pirlo and Ashley Cole’s tame effort was comfortably gathered by Buffon. Nocerino made no mistake in between those two failures and neither did Diamanti when his opportunity for herosim arrived. Penalties are often seen as a cruel way to lose but there was nothing unjust about the identity of the victors in Kiev.