| June 24
June 24 The doom-mongers said Italy's Euro 2012
quarter-final with England had 0-0 and penalties written all
over it and although that is what transpired, the Azzurri
deservedly progressed after looking fresher and more inventive.
England defended manfully - as they almost always do - but
it is not enough in an international tournament and when
Alessandro Diamanti's winning spot kick hit the back of the net
on Sunday, purists Europe-wide heaved a sigh of relief.
Inexperienced Mario Balotelli missed a host of chances, and
Italy's lack of clinical finishing could well be found out in
Thursday's semi-final with Germany, but he at least found
himself in decent positions unlike the poor Wayne Rooney.
One diving header over and a misdirected overhead kick was
all England's usual talisman could muster in a leggy display
which belied the fact he had only played one match in Ukraine
and Poland because of suspension and should have looked fresher
than all the rest.
Italy dominated possession with 64 percent of the ball and
had 35 shots to England's nine, with 20 on target. Daniele De
Rossi and Diamanti hit the post and Antonio Nocerino had a goal
disallowed for offside.
Gone are the days of Italian catenaccio and trying to seal
1-0 wins, whatever the blank score line says. Pundits still
comment that Italy are defensive, but that is because they have
good defenders, not because of the style of play.
Italy see holders Spain as the high watermark, with coach
Cesare Prandelli praising his Latin brothers every time he can,
but Sunday's game was in some ways more entertaining than the
world champions' cagey 2-0 win over France on Saturday.
Spain might have managed two more goals with 30 minutes less
game time but Italy were always looking to score, unlike Spain
and certainly unlike England.
The Azzurri have learnt one thing from the English and
nowadays they look much more threatening from dead balls than in
the past, meaning all their attempts at goal do have not to come
from clever flicks or sublime Andrea Pirlo passes.
AC Milan thought 33-year-old Pirlo was washed up last year
when they let him join rivals Juventus on a free transfer only
for him to inspire the Turin side to steal Milan's Serie A
The 2006 World Cup winner sprayed the ball around the Kiev
pitch like he owned the place, which he did for large parts of
the contest as Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were run ragged
in a one-dimensional English 4-4-2. His chipped penalty was
Pirlo still needs to move closer to the opposing goal to be
really effective but Germany will identify him as the man they
have to stop to reach the final. Indeed, all of Italy's four
goals in the group stage were scored or created by Pirlo.
England missed the injured Frank Lampard, someone with guile
to create like Pirlo, but in truth England's long tale of woe
when it comes to major tournaments is a just reflection of their
creative limitations whatever the glamour of the Premier League.
Italy kept the ball for long spells but moved it faster and
were more forward-thinking than Spain. The lack of a finisher
though may prompt Prandelli to mull bringing in Antonio Di
Natale for Balotelli, who at least dispatched his penalty with
Italy's penalty shootout record improved to three successes
in eight at major tournaments while England have now won only
one of seven.
But it was not penalty demons that did for England, it was
the footballing gods who knew full well that Italy had deserved
(Editing by Justin Palmer)