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Alessandro Diamanti stepped forward to take the final penalty kick which would secure Italy’s semi-final berth and end England’s dreams. It had taken over 120 minutes to separate Italy and England and it came down to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. After Diamanti had successfully converted the winning kick, England knew that history had repeated itself. It was to be another tale of tragedy for the English, but Italy could look forward to facing old foes Germany in the next round.

Before, Ashley Cole had failed to convert his penalty, with Gianluigi Buffon diving to his right to save the kick. Whilst Ashley Young was also guilty having smashed his effort off the crossbar. There was a massive sigh of relief from the lips of Italy’s Ricardo Montolivo who had earlier fired his kick wide of the goal. The Azzurri could be found embraced in a celebratory huddle, whilst the England players collapsed to the ground, wondering what could have been.

Ultimately the result was one of poetic justice, after Italy had dominated the game and England clung on to keep out the Italian bombardment. The Italians had dominated the midfield and carved England open time and again in the latter stages. But it was not always this way, with the English perhaps having enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges.

The match began with a flurry of chances, which immediately threw out the expectations that this would be a cagey affair, with both sides happy to sit back and wait for the other to act. Cesare Prandelli opted for a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Mario Balotelli selected upfront to partner Antonio Cassano. Meanwhile Roy Hodgson stuck with the same eleven, who faced Ukraine in the previous match. Italy were determined to retain possession and pass through the English defence. Hodgson’s side meanwhile looked to hit the Italians on the counter, with their wing-backs bombing forward to supply width.

Within a matter of minutes Italy demonstrated their attacking intentions, with a long range effort from Daniele De Rossi, crashing off the post. Then England nearly scored with their first attack of the game, with Ashley Young finding James Milner on the right, who fizzed a cross, straight across the goal mouth, where it found Glen Johnson, who attempted to lift it into the roof of the net, but Buffon’s arm rose to deny the defender.

England’s attacking width was proving troublesome for the Italians to deal with. Time and time again Johnson was appearing on the right, ready to rain crosses for the awaiting strikers. Federico Balzaretti was struggling to deal with the right-back and Rooney had gone close with a diving header.

Italy’s midfield were able to stamp their design on the match as the first-half went on. The rotating carousel of Andrea Pirlo, De Rossi, Montolivo and Claudio Marchisio made it difficult for England to single out Pirlo, thus creating space for the others to play their passing game.

On numerous occasions Pirlo was able to find Mario Balotelli with a pass through the centre of England’s defence, only for the defence to make a last ditch recovery. The first such chance came when Balotelli, played onside, was one-on-one with Joe Hart, only for John Terry to run back and dive in the way, out-muscling the Italian.

Italy created several more chances. Perhaps their best came from am Antonio Cassano header, where Balotelli pushed between to defenders, before blasting the ball over the crossbar. It was a poor finish and Balotelli lashed out at the post in frustration.

Italy’s profligacy continued into the second-half, where within minutes Hart punched the ball out, for Marchisio to head it back into the box, where De Rossi beat Lescott at the near post and shot wide. England had got out of jail.

Hodgson’s men were unable to cross the half-way line for much of this half, as the Italians pegged them back. The infamous ‘two banks of four’ had emerged, as England resorted to a defensive mindset. James Milner could be found dropping into central midfield, leaving Johnson exposed to Balzaretti’s runs on the left. This was not helped by the introduction of Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott in the 61st minute. The removal of Danny Welbeck meant England could launch the ball to Carroll, whose poor first touch gave the ball straight to Italy on numerous occasions. Walcott remained anonymous for much of the game.

Pirlo and Marchisio began to run the midfield as the half wore on. The Azzurri’s finishing was poor, with Marchisio stinging Hart’s palms with a long range effort and Montolivo volleying over. Their most spectacular chance came when Balotelli took down a cross and attempted an overhead kick, it went over the bar.

England’s midfield had run themselves ragged. A telling sign was the removal of Scott Parker in extra time for Jordan Henderson, in the hope that fresh legs would aid their quest to reach penalties. Italy’s substitutions turned the game in their favour, with Diamanti appearing dangerous. The Bologna striker added a fresh vibe to Italy’s attack and he was all that was good about their attack. He created one chance and was unfortunate not to score with a left-footed shot which hit the post.

Italy even managed to have an Antonio Nocerino goal ruled out for offside, running onto a Diamanti cross to head into the goal. England thought they’d made a final great escape.

Italy’s 744 passes, compared to England’s 269 indicate the extent to which Hodgson’s men defended valiantly throughout the match. The Azzurri had managed a total of 36 shots on England’s goal, they could only reply with nine in return. There can be no argument as to which side deserves their place in the semi-finals.

Ryan Ross

I became enthralled with Calcio back in the 90’s, when James Richardson presented Football Italia. My early mornings were spent following the trials and tribulations of Internazionale, during a period where they always flattered to deceive. It took a Frenchman to get me hooked though; Youri Djorkaeff, my favourite player of all time. This guy was key to Inter’s midfield, never mind his role in France’s World Cup win in 1998! I have a keen interest in Calcio’s rich history.

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