KEIR RADNEDGE in KYIV
— England lost yet again in a major tournament on a penalty shootout against Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 after a 0-0 draw following extra time. But they could have no complaint. Italy had dominated the match, plenty the far better football, created all the chances, hit the posts twice and one ‘goal’ disallowed for a narrow offside decision.
Thus the first goalless draw of Euro 2012 had come in the knockout stages and England were extremely fortunate still to be ‘alive’ and even get as far as the first shootout of the finals. Briefly they were 2-1 ahead but then Ashley Young hit the bar and Ashley Cole had his kick saved by Gigi Buffon. Alessandro Diamanti struck the decisive penalty for the Azzurri’s 4-2 win.
The sequence (Italy first): Balotelli 1-0, Gerrard 1-1; Montolivo wide 1-1, Rooney 1-2; Pirlo 2-2, Young hits bar 2-2; Nocerino 3-2, Cole saved 3-2; Diamanti 4-2.
Earlier this year and the Azzurri would have been odds-on in their quarter-final at Euro 2012. Not now. Not now that Roy Hodgson had brought commonsense and unity of purpose and pride to England; not now that Italy had lost Giorgio Chiellini, their best defender at Euro 2012, to injury.
England had finished top of their group; Italy had not. England had won two of their three group games; Italy had won only one. But any expectations of caution were instantly dispelled.
Italy made a bright, bubbly start and Daniele De Ross thudded a 30m drive against England keeper Joe Hart’s right-hand post after three minutes. England responded in like fashion two minutes later. A right-wing raid ended up with the ball at Glenn Johnson’s feet in front of goal but his shot was blocked by Gigi Buffon’s upthrown left hand.
Next chance was wasted by Mario Balotelli. England were caught upfield with the defence exposed and the Manchester City man, perhaps wanting to be too sure, allowed John Terry the split-second chance of a distracting challenge. Balotelli did not make the same mistake when Riccardo Montolivo flicked the ball over the top of England’s defence but Hart saved his club-mate’s volley.
England countered. Rooney laid off a return pass perfectly for Danny Wellbeck but the younger Manchester United put his ‘free’ shot over the bar.
Apart from that Italy were running the game, dominating possession, and would have been seriously disappointed to reach half-time without having turned their all-pitch advantage into at least a one-goal advantage.
In the 52nd minute they had three chances in one: Hart was surprised by another distance effort from De Rossi, blocked Balotelli’s shot on the rebound and was fortunate that Montolivo could not pull his shot under the crossbar.
That was the prelude to some scrappy play which illustrated how Engand were suffering from the inability of both Rooney and Gerrard to make their presences felt. Hence it was left to John Terry, Joleon Lescott and Ashley Cole – winning his 98th cap – to hold the line.
Hence Hodgson was the first manager to blink and seek a change for the better with Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott replacing the lightweight Wellbeck and ineffective Milner after an hour. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli waited a further 20 minutes before bringing on Alessandro Diamanti for the faded Antonio Cassano and then Antonio Nocerino for De Rossi.
More and more this was Bayern v Chelsea adapted by different teams on a different stage and, indeed, this game also went to extra time which had been running only four minutes when Jordan Henderson became England’s last substitute, in place of Scott Parker.
The pattern remained unchanged: Italy making the play, England capable only of scruffy counter-attacks. Italy almost scored too: Diamanti curled a cross into the box, Hart misjudged the danger and the ball scudded against his right-hand post and bounced away towards the corner flag.
Two hours ended goalless and spelled the inevitable shootout which sent worn-out Italy on to face fresh and rested Germany in the semi-final next Thursday in Warsaw.
= = = =