Penalties send England out
Sunday, 24 June, 2012
England suffer shootout agony again as they lose to Italy and go out of Euro 2012.
by Jamie Bradbury
England are out of Euro 2012, and once again it’s the agonising tale of missed penalties that sees them head home from Poland and Ukraine.
After 120 minutes, largely dominated by Italy, neither side could find the net, but when it came down to spot kicks, the Three Lions once again came up short.
And it was former West Ham United man Alessandro Diamanti who dealt the final blow, tucking home from 12 yards to send Cesare Prandelli’s men through to a semi-final showdown with Germany.
But if it was Diamanti who was the ultimate hero in the shootout, it was a master-class from Andrea Pirlo that inspired Italy’s victory. Not only did the Juventus man look cool throughout, his penalty with his team trailing underlined just how important he was for his side, cheekily chipping down the middle as the diving Joe Hart could only watch it level matters.
Ashley Young and Ashley Cole were the unlucky ones on this occasion, the first smashing the bar and the second seeing his effort saved by Gianluigi Buffon. Antonio Nocerino and Diamanti were both relaxed as they finally saw off a valiant effort from a hard-working and tough defensive unit in England.
But, it could have all been different, with both sides enjoying glorious openings with three minutes of kick off.
Inside Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, England fans heavily outnumbered their Italian counterparts, making their presence felt, while the anthem was belted out by the fans and players alike, as the Three Lions were looking for their first win over the Italians for 15 years.
And the first four minutes were lively with good chances at either end. First for the Azzurri, Daniele De Rossi swung his left foot at the ball 25 yards out and his swerving sliced strike beat Joe Hart. But luckily for the Three Lions it smashed against the post.
England responded almost instantly, working the play well down James Milner’s right and he pulled back to Johnson unmarked six yards out. The Liverpool defender couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and was only able to scoop up into the grateful grasp of Buffon.
If Buffon’s handling was good then, his next call to action was to deal with a Milner inswinging cross from the left. He came a long way off his line and punched straight to Scott Parker waiting outside the area, but the Spurs midfielder’s shot was always off target.
England continued to enjoy a spell in attack and had another chance with Rooney’s diving header. Johnson clipped in from the right as the Three Lions no.10 was steaming into the box before launching himself at the ball. Ignazio Abate was closely monitoring the situation, though, and stretched out a leg, helping Rooney guide the header over the bar.
Far from being the cagey affair many might have anticipated, England and Italy were both keen to get forward. And when Pirlo played Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli into space behind the Three Lions back-line, which was appealing for offside, they looked to be in trouble. But John Terry sprinted back to help snuff out the danger. Just after the half-hour mark, Balotelli again got the better of the England offside trap, but his first-time volley was straight at his club mate Hart.
Roy Hodgson’s men hadn’t been in Italy’s half for a few minutes, but had the chance to break and when Rooney and Welbeck linked up well on the edge of the Italy box. The younger United forward finished the move with a shot at goal but failed to trouble Buffon as the ball drifted over.
However, it was Prandelli’s team who were enjoying more of the ball, and had another chance through Antonio Cassano. Finding space in between the defence and midfield, the AC Milan man turned and delivered a bending strike on target. Hart had to be alert to deal with it, claiming at the second attempt.
It was a combination of Joleon Lescott and Terry who denied what looked to be a certain opener with the half-time break approaching. Pirlo, largely dictating play in midfield, found Cassano wide of England’s goal just inside the six-yard area, he nodded back onto the danger-zone to Balotelli, but the Three Lions pair hooked away before he could shoot.
Three minutes into the second half, England were again caught out at the back as a looping header found De Rossi unmarked inside the six yard box following an Italy corner. He snatched at his shot on the turn, though, putting the ball wide and letting England off the hook.
Hart’s goal continued to lead a charmed life when the stopper made a double-save shortly after from two Balotelli strikes, then Riccardo Montolivo volleyed a rebound over the bar from close-range.
England needed a change to prevent the Azzurri taking a stronger foothold in the game and on the hour Hodgson brought on Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott in place of Welbeck and Milner.
The change almost yielded a goal, too, when the Arsenal winger chipped in a cross towards Carroll. Though it was behind the Liverpool man, he was able to help into the path of Young who struck first time but saw his effort deflected wide for a corner.
As the game went into its final ten minutes, Italy made two substitutes and the first of those, Diamanti, was straight into the action, firing at Hart’s goal with a fierce left foot strike that stung the keeper’s hands.
The other replacement, Nocerino, had a chance too, latching on to Marchisio’s ball over the top but his shot was blocked by Glen Johnson, marshalling the Milan midfielder well.
It was almost a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ moment, though, as England enjoyed a late attack into injury time. Carroll knocked Cole’s cross down for Rooney, and with his back to goal he attempted the overhead shot – which United fans have seen him pull off – but the ball blazed over the bar and the game moved into extra-time.
Italy dominated extra-time with a tired England team seemingly happy to play for penalties. Balotelli had a couple of shots, neither causing any anguish, while Diamanti brushed the post with a cross-shot. And when Nocerino’s close-range header that found the back of the net was ruled out for offside, some would have been forgiven for thinking it could be England’s night.
And when Montolivo pulled Italy’s second penalty wide to give Hodgson’s men the upper-hand, a shock win looked on. But Pirlo, peerless on the night, steadied the Azzurri ship with his crafty kick and they remained clinical from the spot and England once again missed out.
1-0 Balotelli bottom left (ITA)
1-1 Gerrard bottom left (ENG)
1-1 Montolivo puts wide of the left post (ITA)
1-2 Rooney tucks into the left corner (ENG)
2-2 Pirlo with a cheeky chip down the middle (ITA)
2-2 Ashley Young smashes the crossbar (ENG)
3-2 Nocerino finds the bottom left corner (ITA)
3-2 Buffon saves Ashley Cole's shot towards the bottom right (ENG)
4-2 Alessandro Diamanti delivers the final blow, bottom left (ITA)