The “Italian Job” could well describe the game, and the Italians so narrowly avoided being robbery victims in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. After dominating a lopsided quarter-final clash against England but squandering chance after chance, the Azzurri fell a goal behind in the penalty shootout before the English nerve wilted, failing in their last two attempts.
To put it simply, England were outplayed in a one-sided match and they should have no complaints with the result. Italy, led by midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo took control of the game after an opening 15 minutes salvo by England, and never released it. Pirlo was magnificent, probing and piercing the English defense at will.
England chose once again to go with a defensive line-up, not starting the exciting Theo Walcott in favor of the less creative James Milner. But the Manchester City winger was not alone to find himself outclassed. Skipper Steven Gerrard turned in his weakest performance of the tournament while Scott Parker and Ashley Young once again showed their limited skill at this level.
It took just two minutes for the Italians to rip through the English midfield when Daniele de Rossi curled a powerful left-foot shot that cannoned off the post, but England struck right back with veteran goalkeeper Gigi Buffon forced to make an instinctive save to deny Glen Johnson.
England continued to threaten in this, their best spell with Wayne Rooney setting up a good opportunity that striker Danny Welbeck should have done better than sidefoot wide from the edge of the area.
But by the 20th minute Italy was in control and they never relinquished the dominance. By games end they had 63% of possession and 31 shots to eight.
Italian striker Mario Balotelli was his usual combination of threat and incompetence. He squandered a magnificent Pirlo’s trough ball, then forced English goalkeeper Joe Hart into a save from a low effort.
In the second half Italy introduced Alessandro Diamanti, and the heavily tattooed journeyman, returning from international isolation, created several opportunities. England by now were playing for a draw, putting their hopes in a penalty shootout. The Italians hit the post twice and Antonio Nocerino’s effort was ruled out for offside, but the English held on through 30 minutes of overtime.
Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney were successful from the spot, but Ashley Young hit the bar and Ashley Cole’s effort was saved by Buffon.
Balotelli scored Italy’s first spot-kick before Riccardo Montolivo missed. Pirlo and Nocerino were successful before Diamanti scored the decisive penalty.