- England (2) 0-0 (4) Italy, Euro 2012
England suffer penalty heartache as Italy seal semi spotJune 24, 2012
England's Euro 2012 campaign came to an end as they suffered another shootout heartbreak, losing on penalties against Italy in Kiev.
Still, after Mario Balotelli's talk of Peter Pan, the semi-finals of a major tournament are becoming the equivalent of Never Never Land for the Three Lions. Six times now they have lost in such fashion, the last four at this stage of the competition.
Tonight it was the turn of Ashley Young and Ashley Cole to join the unhappy list of those whose nerve failed them when it mattered. Both men needed consoling as Italy began their celebrations as, outplayed for long periods of an absorbing game, all England's defensive effort proved in vain.
It means Italy march onto Thursday's semi-final with Germany in Warsaw and leaves Roy Hodgson to pick the bones from an otherwise impressive tournament in time for next autumn's World Cup qualifiers.
Before the drama, all those pre-match predictions of a tight, cagey affair had been blown to bits inside the opening five minutes. Claudio Marchisio picked out Daniele de Rossi with a peach of a cut-back. From 25 yards, De Rossi let fly with a spectacular first-time volley, which curved away from Joe Hart's despairing dive, only to crash back off the post.
Starved of possession in those early stages, England eventually countered through Glen Johnson. The Liverpool defender continued his run after laying a pass off to Ashley Young and was picked out inside the box by James Milner. Had the chance fallen to a striker, England surely would have scored.
As it was, Johnson took vital seconds manoeuvring the ball into a position from which he could shoot, and when he did, Gianluigi Buffon stood firm to make an excellent one-handed save. They were the most notable efforts of a surprisingly open start, during which Wayne Rooney sent a diving header over and Andrea Pirlo released Mario Balotelli, only for John Terry to rescue the situation with a vital tackle.
No-one could help when Riccardo Montolivo's disguised pass looped over the England defence and dropped invitingly for Balotelli, whose volley went straight to Hart.
At the other end, Danny Welbeck's precise effort sailed over after he had run onto Rooney's return pass. It was spellbinding stuff, with Italy having the edge in craft and guile, whilst also looking vulnerable when England attacked at pace.
Balotelli's notoriously fragile temperament resulted in him lashing out at a post after spurning another opportunity, which Pirlo and Antonio Cassano combined to provide. He ended the half driving over from long-range, extending a contribution substantially more effective than Rooney, whose failure to pick out a team-mate with a cross under no pressure was symptomatic of a player struggling to find his form.
England were caught cold straight after the interval when Marchisio found De Rossi in the box, only for the midfielder to mis-kick a volley wide from barely four yards when he had the time to do much better.
It was the start of an onslaught that had England teetering on the brink as Pirlo took command in imperious fashion. At 33, the midfielder now assumes the Paul Scholes-role for his country, dropping deep and dictating the tempo, and for a while, England were powerless to stop him.
Terry denied Balotelli at the far-post with a thunderous clearing header, then Hart repelled De Rossi's long-range effort and also Balotelli's follow-up. Montolivo got to the loose ball first but his shot sailed over. Hodgson had seen enough and after Balotelli's overhead kick had gone over, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott were introduced.
With Italy making changes as well, the game lost its shape, so, as had been imagined, extra-time was required. After their defiant rearguard action, it would have been galling in the extreme for England's defences to be breached by a fluke. Fortunately, what was intended as a cross by former West Ham man Alessandro Diamanti clipped the far post after Hart reacted too late to the danger it was posing.
Antonio Nocerino thought he had won it six minutes from the end but his header was correctly ruled out for offside. It merely delayed the inevitable. That England led after the first two rounds of penalties to give hope, only made defeat all the more crushing as Pirlo chipped one down the middle brilliantly only for Young and Cole to miss before Diamanti delivered the final blow.