Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev Date: Sun, 24 June Kick-off: 19:45 BST
It was the most incredible penalty shootout of all time.
Shearer, Platt, Pearce, Gascoigne and Sheringham had all thundered home their spot kicks, as had Hassler, Strunz, Reuter, Ziege and Kuntz. The shootout had gone to sudden death. The first side to miss would surely be going home.
Then up stepped Gareth Southgate. He strolled into the penalty area, spotted the ball, walked backwards ten yards to the edge of the box, ran up and…
Well, the rest is, as they say, history.
Germany went through 6-5 and won the final of Euro 1996 against the Czech Republic for the first time as a unified nation, Oliver Bierhoff scoring the first ever Golden Goal to decide it.
That would be the last time England would grace the semi finals of a European Championship.
They were quarter finalists in Euro 2004, again suffering heartbreak in the penalty shootout, this time to Portugal. They then failed to even qualify for Euro 2008. Expectations are so low of this England team this time that few expected them to reach this stage of the competition again, but they have, and it is Cesare Prandelli’s Italy who stand in the way as the Euro 2012 quarter final stages come to a close.
Italy won this competition in 1968, came fourth in 1980, reached the semi-final in 1988, were runners up in 2000 and quarter finalists in 2008. They also won the World Cup in 2006.
Perhaps most ominous of all for Roy Hodgson’s England is the fact that the Italians have lost just two knock out games in regulation time for twenty four years; a defeat to South Korea in 2002 and the defeat to France in the final of Euro 2000.
The USSR were the last team to beat the Azzurri in a knock-out game without needing extra-time or penalties, and that was in Euro 1988.
It may well be then that England must exorcise some penalty shootout demons if they are to reach their first semi-final in 16 years.
England fans might be praying that Wayne Rooney can help to see off the Italians, as he did the Ukraine in his first game back since suspension. The master plan to success however may well be in the dugout.
Manager Roy Hodgson has done everything right so far, bringing on Andy Carroll against Sweden was a masterstroke whilst his decision to bring back Rooney after his suspension reaped the rewards as well as he scored the winner. Hodgson is also well versed when it comes to Italian Football, having spent two seasons in charge of Inter Milan. He will know all about Italy’s players and tactics, inside knowledge that may well crucially work in England’s favour.
What he can’t be prepared for however is the enigmatic Mario Balotelli. Italy’s success tonight may well depend upon which version of the Manchester City striker turns up. Will it be the Mario Balotelli who scored his first ever goal in the Premier League, only to then get sent off in the same 90 minutes, or the Mario Balotelli who scored a wonder goal against the Republic of Ireland to see the Azzuri through to the last eight?
Head to Head
Italy have lost just once against England in 35 years, and won both of their two previous meetings in a major tournament – when the sides were paired in the same group of Euro 1980 and in the third place play off of the 1990 World Cup. The last time these two sides met was at Elland Road in 2002. Robbie Fowler put England ahead before Vincenzo Montella netted twice. The only surviving member from either of those two sides tonight is keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy’s only defeat to England came in the 2-0 reverse at Le Tournoi in Nantes in 1997, when Ian Wright and Paul Scholes got the goals.
Did you know?
We may well be in for a long night if it goes to penalties.
England have won just one of their six previous penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments – beating Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 1996 after a 0-0 draw. Italy fare just as poorly; they have lost five of seven penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments, and two of three at European Championships.
England: Hart, Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole, Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young, Rooney, Welbeck.
Italy: Buffon, Abate, Bonucci, Barzagli, Balzaretti, Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi, Motta, Cassano, Balotelli.
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