Before the quarterfinals, this matches was labeled as the one that could be the first in Euro 2012 to end in a 0-0 and give us the dreaded penalty kicks. Italy tried to avoid them, England tried to avoid conceding, and in the end justice prevailed as Italy came through in the penalty shootout.
No surprise there, right? England and penalty kicks don’t go hand in hand. Italy 1990, Euro 1996, World Cup 1998, Euro 2004, World Cup 2006. But England decided from about 60 minutes into the game they’re going to do as little as possible in regards of trying to score, laying their hopes on brave defending and a lucky counter attack.
Italy couldn’t score, but did what they could. Mario Balotelli missed and missed. Daniele De Rossi nearly scored the goal of the year right out of the gate and Alessandro Diamanti dazzled Ashley Cole on the left wing. It wasn’t enough, with Joe Hart in an excellent day while Terry and Lescott didn’t miss a tackle or an aerial challenge. All 10 men were defending at all times, and even against a less than impressive English team, it’s very hard to find the net.
England had a couple of chances – Glen Johnson in the early goings, which Buffon beautifully saved. A rare shot here and there, nothing to write home about. As long as England tried to find the goal or at least move the ball on the ground a bit we had a great match, with excellent pace. But they resorted to negative, Chelsea like tactics too soon. Italy might have more tools in their midfield in order to control possession and dominate the match, but Hodgson gave up on trying to win this match way way too soon.
It didn’t help him that Wayne Rooney was awful, as he usually is in knockout stage matches for the national team. It looked like each decision he made at each crossing of roads was the wrong one, with his passes going everywhere but the right direction. Walcott’s entrance did bring a bit of a spark, but both he and Andy Carroll were soon busy marking Italians in the box.
In the penalty kicks, it was Andrea Pirlo’s cheeky chip that changed the tide. Ashley Young took a good shot, a risky shot, that didn’t pay off. Ashley Cole just took a terrible shot, and that’s what happens when a defender not renowned for his technique and attacking skills gets a chance ahead of more qualified players.
Football won because the better team got through the penalty kicks, which usually doesn’t happen, given us a better semi final with Germany waiting on Thursday.