England have crashed out of the European Championships on penalties.
Substitute Alessandro Diamanti’s decisive penalty saw off Roy Hodgson’s men after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole both missed. England’s miserable record at penalties has now stretched to just one win in seven of their previous penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments.
In truth, Italy should have put the game to bed much sooner. The stats speak for themselves. Gli Azzurri enjoyed 63% of the overall ball possession and had 18 shots on target to England’s 4. Daniel De Rossi thundered a superb shot against the post after just 3 minutes, leaving keeper Joe Hart well beaten whilst Diamanti again hit the post in the tenth minute of extra time with a cross-cum shot.
After peppering the England goal with 31 shots in total, Italy thought they had finally made the breakthrough five minutes from the end of extra time when Antonio Nocerino headed home from a Alessandro Diamanti cross, but the flag was correctly raised for offside.
England’s luck was soon to be out however when they missed two crucial spot kicks. Riccardo Montolivo’s earlier miss followed by a thumping Rooney conversion had earlier given England hope, but Ashley Young then thwacked his effort against the crossbar before Buffon guessed correctly to keep out the tamest of strikes from Cole.
England had few chances of their own in regulation time. Glen Johnson could only scoop the ball towards a perplexed Buffon when Milner found him in time and space with a cross, though he couldn’t seem to get his footing right.
Buffon was then forced into an awkward punch out from another Milner cross, with the ball falling invitingly to Scott Parker, who could only screw his shot wide on the rebound.
Welbeck was then set up by a clever Rooney backheel, and seemed to try to pass his resulting shot into the net, though missed the target entirely.
England then almost snatched it at the death, when Wayne Rooney attempted an overhead kick following some good build up play between Ashley Cole and Andy Carroll. Mario Balotelli would have had his heart in his mouth, having once witnessed the Man United hitman score from a sublime overhead kick against his Manchester City team, but there was to be no repeat this time as his acrobatic effort sailed over Buffon’s goal as the full time whistle eventually blew.
Andrea Pirlo meanwhile belied his 33 years of age, proving central to everything Italy did even as the game extended into 120 minutes. He never stopped running, spreading the ball around at will and dictating play, before eventually converting the most audacious of penalties, cheekily dinking the ball over Hart. He made over 100 passes in total, while no England player passed it more than 40 times, putting his dominance over proceedings into brutal clarity.
You have to wonder if Paul Scholes could have had a similar effect for England were he to have been given a call up. Jordan Henderson, the replacement for Frank Lampard after he sustained injury, climbed off the bench four minutes into extra time. The 22 year old though had little input on play, with this tournament coming far too soon for him.
In the end England can have little complaints having been outplayed for vast swathes of the game. It is yet another penalty failure for them, and Roy Hodgson now faces the task of moving on the likes of Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Parker for the 2014 World Cup.
Italy meanwhile extend their imperious stranglehold over England, having lost just once to them in 35 years. They also extend their phenomenal record of losing just two knockout games in regulation time in twenty four years; the USSR were the last team to beat the Azzurri in a knock-out game without needing extra-time or penalties, and that was at Euro 1988.
Spain vs Portugal 27.6.12, k/o 19:45
Italy vs Germany 28.6.12, k/o 19:45
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