After thoroughly dominating their quarter-final matchup, the Italians needed penalty kicks to eliminate England from the European championships on Sunday in Kiev.
Midfielder Alessandro Diamanti scored the decisive shot, lifting Italy to a 4-2 shootout win and a spot into the semifinals.
Sometimes predictions are just meant to be bang on.
With England and Italy playing a similar counter-attacking style, the general feeling was that the match’s outcome could very well hinge on penalty kicks.
Although the consensus proved correct, no could predict the complete domination displayed by the Italians throughout regulation and overtime.
They dictated the play and dominated ball possession and scoring chances, but couldn’t beat goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Italy directed 35 shots at the England net, finding the target 20 times, according to UEFA's stat track. England could only hit the net four times on nine shots.
The Azzurri could hardly be blamed for feeling snakebitten and leery heading into the penalties, knowing the game should’ve been secured much earlier.
Ultimately, Italy deserved to walk away with the win.
Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Nocerino also converted penalty kicks for Italy. England’s Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney responded for their nation. The undoing for the English came after consecutive misses by Ashley Young and Ashley Cole.
This was just the third major international game that these two long-standing soccer giants have played against one another.
Italy took the only other two matches, winning a group game at the 1980 European championship and the 1990 World Cup battle for third place.
The heartbreak continues for England, which has not advanced to the semifinal of a major international tournament since it hosted Euro 1996. It was also another heart-breaking elimination in the quarter-finals following a penalty shootout — England lost to Portugal in similiar fashion at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.
It didn’t take both teams to produce excellent scoring chances. Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi hit the far post in the third minute, while goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon robbed England defender Glen Johnson with a left-hand stop from close range.
Balotelli showed once again why he’s an immensely talented yet frustrating striker to watch.
A teammate of Hart, centre back Joleon Lescott and midfielder James Milner for Premiership champion Manchester City, Balotelli couldn’t take advantage of a plethora of opportunities.
One of his best chances came in the 25th minute, but he couldn’t free himself from Johnson in order get off a good shot against a charging Hart.
The Italians didn’t ease up in the second half, coming close to scoring in the 52nd minute. Hart, however, was up to the task.
The English goalie stopped consecutive shots by De Rossi and Balotelli, and then saw midfielder Riccardo Montolivo’s volley sail wide.
Johnson then saved England near the end of regulation time. The defender deflected wide a glorious chance by midfielder Antonio Nocerino, who had Hart heading in the wrong direction.
The 30 minutes of extra time was no different from regulation, with Italy generating the majority of the opportunities. Azzurri fans thought their side finally broke through near the end of the session, but Nocerino’s header into the open net was nullified by an off-side call.
England did a great job of resembling the NHL’s New York Rangers, continually blocking shots away from their intented target.
What this result means
- Italy moves on to face Germany in Thursday’s semifinal matchup. The Italians are in search of their first European title since winning the country’s only championship at the tournament in 1968.
The winning goal
- Nocerino will officially get credit for netting the shootout winner, but it was Diamanti’s goal that sealed the victory for Italy.
Man of the match
- Like he has been throughout the tournament, Pirlo was the best player for either side. He showed great ball skills, set up teammates with several scoring chances, and was clearly the most dangerous force of the match. Pirlo’s gorgeous chip past a moving Hart during the penalty kicks highlighted his dazzling performance.
The Italian perspective
"Tonight, we played with heart and character, but also with ideas. Our idea of playing was extraordinary in my opinion, against a side that was difficult to play." — Italy coach Cesare Prandelli
The English perspective
"Penalties has become an obsession for us in English football and in training they have done extremely well. But you can't reproduce the tired legs. You can't reproduce the pressure. You can't reproduce the nervous tension. [The Italians] stood up to it better than we did. Pirlo's penalty was the perfect example." — England coach Roy HodgsonWith files from The Associated Press