NEWS
Sunday June 24 2012
Italy win England shoot-out!

Italy dominated the match with England and hit the woodwork twice, but eventually pushed England out 4-2 on penalties!

Neither side was particularly impressive in the group phase, but they went head-to-head for a chance to face Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-final. Giorgio Chiellini was out injured and Thiago Motta carrying a thigh problem, so Riccardo Montolivo received his first start of the tournament in the diamond midfield with Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci at centre-back. England were unchanged from the line-up that beat Ukraine 1-0 with Wayne Rooney available after being suspended for the first two games.

Over the last 35 years these teams have played out six Azzurri victories, two draws and a single English win at Le Tournoi in 1997. Italy had only lost two out of nine quarter-finals at major tournaments, both on penalties. Italian supporters were vastly out-numbered in Kiev, but locals mostly cheered on the Azzurri.

Italy got off to a very strong start and after three minutes the Ignazio Abate pull-back found Daniele De Rossi from a good 25 metres to unleash a screamer with his left foot that smacked against the post with Joe Hart well beaten.

Moments later England created a fantastic scoring opportunity with James Milner given too much space down the right and crossed for Glen Johnson from six yards, but Gigi Buffon performed an amazing one-handed reaction save to bat it off the line and capture the loose ball on the way down.

Balotelli gave away the ball at the touchline to spark an England counter and Leonardo Bonucci intercepted to put the pass out before Danny Welbeck could tap in.

Johnson’s cross from deep was turned over by a Rooney diving header under pressure from Abate. Balotelli should’ve given Italy the lead from a long ball and hook that saw him one-on-one with Hart, but he hesitated and allowed John Terry to get the deflection to send it wide.

Balotelli had another opportunity soon after and this time hit it quickly, perhaps too quickly, with a half-volley straight at Hart.

Moments later England went on a rapid counter that saw Welbeck’s give-and-go with Rooney, but the finish was side-footed just over the bar.

Antonio Cassano hit a sudden curling snapshot towards the far top corner that Hart beat away with both palms. Balotelli went into the box and tumbled, but did not seem in a position to get the ball anyway. Cassano and Andrea Pirlo had long-range shots charged down in quick succession.

Pirlo’s inspired ball over the top was nodded back by Cassano from the by-line for Balotelli, who was leaning back and fired over from six yards as two England defenders dived in to get a deflection.

There was terrible danger on the break from a poorly-taken early Pirlo free kick, but Rooney’s cross was cut out at the crucial moment. Balotelli unleashed a rocket from 25 metres that soared not too far over the target.

A curious statistic showed that England had not caught any opponent offside throughout the tournament, a sign of their very deep defending.

After the restart a corner was punched out by Hart and put back in for De Rossi to spring the offside trap, but he turned wide from seven yards!

Terry needed a diving header to stop Abate’s cross reaching Balotelli at the back post, then the move continued with three chances in rapid succession! Hart parried a long-range De Rossi snapshot, then beat away Balotelli’s follow-up with his legs from a couple of yards and Montolivo turned over at the third attempt.

Balotelli stumbled when trying to run on to a Cassano through ball as he was one-on-one with the last defender. There was a nasty clash of heads between Abate and Ashley Young, but both were able to continue after treatment.

Balotelli attempted an audacious chest and overhead kick when shoved in the back by Terry, but this time it was over the bar.

Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott replaced Welbeck and Milner for England. A well-worked move saw De Rossi volley well over from a Pirlo ball over the defence. At the other end Carroll was closed down, but Young hit him on the follow-up, although a corner was awarded.

Lescott charged down a Claudio Marchisio attempt, as was another long-range De Rossi strike. Marchisio and Montolivo again had shots blocked by defensive bodies, but Buffon grabbed a Steven Gerrard free kick that took a glance off Rooney’s hair plugs.

Alessandro Diamanti was the first substitute after 78 minutes for a tired Cassano, but the change was momentarily delayed as he was accidentally wearing Emanuele Giaccherini’s shirt. Hart had to punch Marchisio’s chipped pass off the head of Manchester City teammate Balotelli.

De Rossi alerted the staff to a thigh problem and made way for Antonio Nocerino. Diamanti’s fierce left-foot strike was well smothered by Hart, but Andrea Barzagli went into the book for a two-footed tackle on Young.

Balzaretti bravely dived in to block a Scott Parker shot from a cleared free kick, getting a boot in the head for his trouble.

Italy thought they had finally broken through in the final minute with a great ball over the top for Nocerino to trap and shoot, but Johnson was absolutely decisive with a block for a corner. Abate had been struggling with muscular problems for half an hour and raised his hand to confirm he was in no condition to continue, making way for Christian Maggio.

England tried to take advantage of an exhausted Italy with Ashley Cole’s cross knocked down by Carroll, but the Rooney overhead kick was over. The tie went to extra time.

Nocerino blasted over from distance and Maggio was very harshly booked for a clean tackle on Young, meaning he’ll be suspended for the next game. Jordan Henderson replaced Scott Parker for England’s final substitution.

Balotelli sprung the offside trap, but couldn’t quite get his foot to the long pass, then saw Lescott charge down his shot and later fired straight at Hart.

Diamanti went extremely close on 101 minutes and Italy hit the woodwork for the second time in the match, as his cross for Nocerino was wayward and swerved past Hart to crack the base of the far post!

Walcott’s chipped cross for Carroll was out of touch before the Liverpool striker could get there in the final play of extra time, first half. At this stage, Italy had 66 per cent of the possession in this match.

Lescott slipped in the six-yard box when Maggio pulled back from the by-line, but Terry was there to clean up the danger. Diamanti’s free kick and the Pirlo follow-up pass were cleared with great difficulty, as Italy were dominating extra time.

Balotelli’s free kick from distance was well over and Maggio’s shot was charged down, but on 112 minutes Balzaretti’s low cross found Diamanti to fire wide of the near post from seven yards under pressure from Gerrard.

Balotelli was in a promising position, but didn’t seem to realise the pass was coming through and let it hit his ankle.

Italy thought they had scored when Diamanti wriggled away from his marker to cross for Nocerino’s header from six yards under the bar, but the linesman raised his flag. It was tight, but the correct decision.

The Azzurri were the only ones keeping the ball in extra time and raised the overall statistic to 68 per cent possession, but could not find the breakthrough, so England forced them to penalties.

Balotelli, who famously has never missed a penalty in his entire career, stepped up first against his Manchester City teammate Hart and both were smiling. Balotelli beat his colleague very close at the near post despite Hart guessing the right corner.

Gerrard scored with an identical finish to that of Balotelli. Montolivo fired his wide of the same upright, so Rooney gave England the advantage, 2-1.

Pirlo was next up and showed remarkable cool to chip Hart with a Francesco Totti-style ‘cucchiaio.’ It evened everything out when Young smashed his spot-kick against the bar.

Nocerino sent Hart the wrong way with a delicate finish and Buffon saved Cole’s weak effort to put Italy in front, 3-2.

Diamanti was the last up for the Azzurri and converted to give Italy a place in the Euro 2012 semi-final!

England 0-0 Italy (aet)

Shoot-out: Balotelli (Ita, goal), Gerrard (Eng, goal), Montolivo (Ita, miss), Rooney (Eng, goal), Pirlo (Ita, goal), Young (Eng, bar), Nocerino (Ita, goal), Cole (Eng, saved), Diamanti (Ita, goal)

England: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner (Walcott 60), Gerrard, Parker (Henderson 94), Young; Rooney, Welbeck (Carroll 60)

Italy: Buffon; Abate (Maggio 91), Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti; Pirlo; Marchisio, Montolivo, De Rossi (Nocerino 80); Balotelli, Cassano (Diamanti 78)

Ref: Proenca (Por)

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