England were always up against it with one win over Italy in 35 years. Despite their record, the opening stages suggested England might end Italy’s stranglehold. However, despite the early signs of life, the game settled into a familiar pattern with Italy dominant.
De Rossi’s early volley left Hart stranded as the post rescued England. Roy Hodgson’s side came close, soon after, with Johnson forcing an instinctive save from Buffon. Rooney nodded a Johnson cross over as England started well. Buffon’s anger was clear with Italy struggling to dictate play.
Italy gained control, as the half wore on with England surrendering possession. Cassano fired over and Terry blocked Balotelli’s effort as England sat back. Italy continued to threaten, with Balzaretti finding joy on the left, as Balotelli had another chance. Luckily, his improvised effort lacked power. At the other end, Welbeck wasted a good chance after a neat one-two with Rooney.
England’s problems remained with Cassano testing Hart as the ball kept coming back at England. Balotelli squandered Italy’s best chance from a Cassano knock back after Pirlo’s delightful pass. The forward looked certain to score from a few yards but England cleared the danger.
Italy looked at ease with their greater movement. In contrast, England’s passing and statuesque movement were painful to watch. Half time came at the right time for England with Italy having a firm grip on proceedings.
De Rossi pulled a glorious chance wide from three yards. England dropped too deep and haphazard counter attacks were now their only option. John Terry headed Abate’s cross away from Balotelli as Italy ramped up the pressure. De Rossi stung Hart’s fingers, Hart saved Balotelli’s follow-up and Montolivo lashed over as England clung on.
Another Balotelli effort led to Hodgson taking action with Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott replacing the ineffective Milner and Welbeck. Italy probed as Pirlo’s influence continued to grow with England were now an anonymous attacking force.
Entering the last ten minutes, Hodgson’s men could not get out of their own half. Johnson blocked a Nocerino effort with the midfielder set to give Italy the lead. Rooney’s ambitious overhead, in injury time, was a rare English positive.
Extra-time followed the same pattern as the earlier 90. Italian substitute Alessandro Diamanti had the biggest influence in the extra period. His cross-shot brushed the post and he set up Nocerino to put Italy ahead. England lived again though as Nocerino’s effort was rightly flagged offside.
120 minutes of football could not separate the teams so penalties would decide Germany’s opponents. Having lost five of their six tournament shoot-outs, this was not what England wanted. Gerrard and Rooney obliged with their spot kicks and Montolivo’s misfire gave England the edge.
Sadly, England misread the script and the wheels came off in the next few minutes. Young’s penalty rattled the bar and Cole’s weak effort gave Italy the upper hand. Pirlo crowned his virtuoso display with a chipped penalty. Diamanti sent Hart the wrong way to book Italy’s semi-final spot.
England have now lost eight of 11 quarterfinals with Italy unbeaten in 10 (normal time). Italy’s recent results are testament to Cesare Prandelli with the Italians unbeaten in his 14 competitive games.
English football, however, needs a major overhaul. Whilst Hodgson’s ability to generate a togetherness and team spirit is commendable, it is not enough. Change is imperative as the gap between England and Europe’s best grows wider.
The Football Association need to take notice of their Spanish and German counterparts. Spain overhauled their entire system whilst Jurgen Klinsmann revamped Germany’s footballing philosophy. English football requires similar action with England falling short when it matters.
Passes: Italy (894) – England (421)
Andrea Pirlo attempted 131 passes – England’s whole midfield attempted 114
Shots: Mario Balotelli (10) – England (9)
Ashley Cole attempted 44 passes – 8 Italians made 64 or more
England’s passing accuracy (73%) and possession (32%) – the team’s worst in Euro 2012