England vs Italy at Euro 2012 ended in a crushingly inevitable outcome for England’s team and supporters: another quarter-final exit for the English in a penalty shoot-out.
Yet despite England’s sixth loss in their last seven penalty duels, few can doubt that justice was done. Italy were superior to England for almost the entire 120 minutes, with 33-year-old midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings with a midfield performance of considerable class and grace. The Azzurri will now face a rampant Germany in a mouth-watering semi-final in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday.
England started brightly, and while the first serious chance fell to Italy – De Rossi’s curling left-foot volley belting the post with goalkeeper Hart beaten – the two sides looked evenly matched for the opening 20 minutes. England fashioned chances, including a goalmouth scramble that drew a fine reflex stop from Gianluigi Buffon.
Yet it wasn’t long before the Italian midfield began to dominate possession, penning England back in their own half for long periods. Several chances fell Italy’s way, with England’s defence split on more than one occasion by Pirlo’s measured passes.
The recipient of those threaded throughballs, Mario Balotelli, failed to capitalise on his chances, and some heroic England defending kept the Italians out until half-time. In the English defence, the likes of John Terry and Joleon Lescott regularly threw their bodies in the way of Italian attacks.
If the first-half had seen Italy gradually take a hold of the game after an even start, the second half saw the Azzurri dominate completely. Chances were rare for the tired-looking English, with defenders again having to block shots and make last-ditch tackles. Extra-time saw little change in the game, with blue shirts pouring forward to craft chances. England boldly thwarted the Italians, however, and were rewarded with a penalty shoot-out after 120 minutes without a goal.
Penalties started poorly for the Italians – while Mario Balotelli scored Italy’s first spot-kick, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard also scored, and Riccardo Montolivo’s wide miss put the English 1-2 ahead in the shoot-out. Yet an ice-cool penalty from man-of-the-match Pirlo (video below), which saw the midfielder nonchalantly chip the ball home, helped Italy wrest back the advantage. Ashley Young could only smash his penalty against the bar, and when Buffon saved Ashley Cole’s penalty, it was all over – a 4-2 victory on spot-kicks for the Italians.