Italy held their nerve in a penalty shootout to get the reward their dominance deserved by inflicting more spot-kick misery on England to secure the last Euro 2012 semi-final place on Sunday.
A match that began in frantic fashion but slowed close to walking pace on a warm Kiev evening ended past midnight when Alessandro Diamanti calmly slotted low past Joe Hart to give the Italians a 4-2 shootout success after 120 minutes of stalemate.
Cesare Prandelli’s side, who have confounded expectations with their run to the last four, now meet three-times winners Germany in Warsaw on Thursday, the night after holders Spain take on Iberian neighbours Portugal in Donetsk.
“We played a great game and deserved to win. They (Italy’s players) haven’t just been great, they’ve been more than that and then in penalties you always need a bit of luck,” said Prandelli.
“We tried to play football we tried to bring them (England) out of their defence but they did not want to come out of their defence,” he added after the match finished goalless following almost total Italian dominance in extra time.
Italy, chasing a first European title since their only triumph in 1968, had a tired England on the ropes for long periods.
Orchestrated by the intelligent and tireless work of midfield artist Andrea Pirlo, fresh until the end as younger team mates and opponents wilted, the Azzurri mustered 35 efforts at goal with 20 on target. England, by contrast, had just nine shots in total, but neither side could land a decisive blow.
The teams were meeting for the first time in more than 10 years in a competitive match and it was the Italians who came closest to scoring as they struck the woodwork twice and had a goal disallowed in extra time.
By contrast, England failed to trouble Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon after an early chance for Glen Johnson.
For England, standing only above the Italians as the penalty shootout failures of world football after a long line of spot-kick heartbreak in major tournaments, it was a familiar sorry tale.
“When we took it to penalties I was rather hoping this might be our tournament to win on penalties, certainly the practising didn’t help us too much on this occasion,” lamented England coach Roy Hodgson, suffering his first reverse since taking charge in May.
“For long periods of time it was an interesting tactical battle, We tried our best, we worked as hard as we could.
“We’ve gone out I think with our heads held high. I personally think the lads have done a fantastic job for the country and I also think people have appreciated it.”
ENGLAND’S PENALTY HOODOO
Since losing a World Cup semi-final against Germany in Turin in 1990, England have been eliminated on penalties in five more tournaments, including Sunday’s exit at the hands of the Italians.
Alas for Young and Cole, their failures will go down in the miserable annals of England’s penalty pain, joining such wretched memories as Chris Waddle’s kick sailing over the bar in Turin and Gareth Southgate’s scuffed effort, easily saved by Andreas Koepke, that sealed another German semi-final triumph at Euro 96.
England, in that tournament on home soil, had at least managed to beat Spain on spot-kicks in the last eight to claim their place in the semis.
Italy also suffered penalty miseries of their own in the same period, but it was nothing compared to England’s succession of heartbreaks which continued in 1998 when Paul Ince and David Batty failed from the spot as Argentina prevailed in the World Cup second round following a 2-2 draw.
The English nightmares returned at Euro 2004 with a shootout defeat by hosts Portugal in the quarter-finals when David Beckham skied his kick way up into the Estadio da Luz and blamed a dodgy penalty spot.
Portugal were again England’s nemesis two years later at the World Cup with another quarter-final defeat on penalties as Wayne Rooney was sent off and Jamie Carragher missed his twice-taken kick in a 3-1 shootout loss following a 0-0 draw.
Those 2006 finals in Germany were, of course, a crowning glory for Italy with Fabio Grosso confidently striking in a winning penalty when Marcello Lippi’s men scored all five spot- kicks to edge out France after a 1-1 draw.
That triumph may have given Italy a decisive psychological advantage on Sunday as, at least, they had the experience of having won a penalty shootout to lift the World Cup.
England, after serial misery in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006 and 2012, could be excused if they are escorted home this week by men in white coats. DM
Photo: Italy’s players celebrate victory against England after penalty shoot-out of their Euro 2012 quarter-final soccer match at Olympic Stadium in Kiev, June 24, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Staples
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