England finally ran out of luck as they crashed out of Euro 2012 after losing 4-2 on penalties against a vastly superior Italian side.
England were looking on top after Ricardo Montolivo missed his penalty and Wayne Rooney gave the English a 2-1 lead in the shootout with three spotkicks left for each team. But Ashley Young struck the crossbar and Ashley Cole’s penalty was saved by Gianluigi Buffon before Alessandro Diamanti scored the decisive goal to send Italy through to the semifinals.
After a bright start from the English, they slowly withered away into a more defensive tactic with Italy’s midfielders taking control of the game. Daniele de Rossi hit the post with a swerving shot and Mario Balotelli had numerous shots saved by Joe Hart as England held on.
The second half was all Italy as the Azzurri poured forward with intent and England’s defence needed a combination of grit, bravery and luck to keep them in the match.
Another telling factor of course was the brilliance of Joe Hart in goal. With club-mate Balotelli among those posing a threat from distance, the 25-year-old stopper had to constantly be aware and did his job perfectly well.
England also had a few chances of theirs with their early crossing tactic causing some problems in the Italian box and Rooney should have done better with Glen Johnson playing him in first before he couldn’t get enough on a Steven Gerrard freekick.
Both teams sent on three substitutes each in the second half but the Italians always looked more likely to score. England at times, were subjected to some desperate defending.
Balotelli scored his spotkick in the shootout before skipper Gerrard did the same. But Montolivo’s penalty went wide and Rooney gave the English the lead. But it did nothing to stop their woeful record in penalties.
Young’s straight hard attempt met the bar after Andre Pirlo had scored a cheeky chip ala Zinedine Zidane to level things. Antonio Nocerino sent Hart the wrong way and with England under pressure, Chelsea fullback Cole’s shot was guessed by Buffon and saved easily in the end.
Diamanti made no mistake in the decisive take and this loss means England have lost six of their last seven shootout battles.
Italy will now take on Germany in the semifinal, with Spain or Portugal waiting in the finals if they win.