EURO 2012: Andrea Pirlo Show Sees Italy Past England on Penalties

Through recycled rhetoric and a segue from implying that England could grind out wins to an acceptance that there was not enough quality to compete, England fell out of EURO 2012 to a superior Italy side.

It was a quarter final that stuttered along until Andrea Pirlo took the game by the throat. The Juventus playmaker was afforded ample time and space and picked out teammates time and time again.

Today, in England’s post tournament press conference, it was stated by Steven Gerrard that they were so close to ending their quarter finals ‘hoodoo’. This, frankly, is applying gloss to a record. England did not exceed or bail out on expectations. They defeated two nations outside of the World’s top fifteen and failed to defeat two sides in the World’s top fifteen.

England defended well and organized spectacularly whenever an attacker was directly in front of goal, but they had no cutting edge. Their midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard were superb at stifling, but they had very few creative outlets.

Perhaps things would have been different had Wayne Rooney been fit, but he ghosted around the park last night misplacing touches and laboring to chase passes. In the end England’s best player was Glen Johnson.

Of course England did magnificently to top Group D and their EURO 2012 campaign will be noted as one of brave and stubborn work, but workmen do not win championships.

In their final outing they conspired to block out Italy and create a few chances of their own. Glen Johnson broke into the box, muddled the ball past Italian defenses and dug out a shot that headed straight for Gianluigi Buffon. Johnson also spun a cross towards a lurking Rooney, but the striker skimmed his header well wide of his target.

Danny Wellbeck had another chance, side-footing his strike wide after elusive Rooney running, but that was about it for England. The rest of the game saw Italy passing and passing until England ran out of steam.

Pirlo made 117 passes during this game, many of them springing attackers, while England only mustered 320 collectively. Despite only coming on as a 60th minute substitute Andy Carroll formed the most used passing partnership- with goalkeeper Joe Hart.

In the first half Daniele De Rossi let slip a swerving volley that defeated Hart, but hit the post. Mario Balotelli peppered the goal with attempts, even once fractionally clearing the bar with an overhead kick (Something a tired Rooney also attempted, but spooned well over the goal). Substitute Allesandro Diamanti hit the post from a swirling cross attempt. Antonio Nocerino scored with his head, but was rightly adjudged to be offside.

England help firm, though. John Terry overcame some early jitters to drag his fellow defenders into place and Joleon Lescott got as tight to Balotelli as humanly possible.

In the end the game finished as the tournament’s first 0-0. Extra time was notable for Italy’s dominance and Pirlo’s continued brilliance, but no goals were scored.

Reflecting on the game Pirlo said, “I didn’t fear an upset as England barely created anything but just tried to defend and drag us to penalties”.  He was right, but going into penalties there were whispers of Chelsea and thoughts of banishing demons.

Balotelli calmly placed the first spot-kick beyond Manchester City teammate Joe Hart. Then Gerrard slotted his. Ricardo Montolivo thumped his wide and it was advantage England, but despite Rooney ensuring a 2-1 lead, Pirlo decided to take his confident display one step further…

After showing how fallible Hart could be, it was always going to be advantage Italy. Ashley Young was spooked into hitting the crossbar and Ashley Cole limply dinked his penalty towards a grateful Buffon.

Nocerino coolly placed his penalty the other side of Hart and when Diamanti scored the decider it ended 4-2 on penalties with Italy gleefully running around the stadium.

England were valiant, but many felt that justice was done. Now Italy head for a semi final with the powerful Germans and England are left feeling proud, if a little resigned to their place in football’s pecking order.

The semi finals are set up as Portugal versus Spain and Germany versus Italy. Can anyone see past a Spain versus Germany final?