KRAKOW, Poland, July 25 (Reuters) - If Italy can replicate the coolness in front of goal shown by Andrea Pirlo when he dinked in his cheeky penalty against England, the Azzurri might have a chance of troubling Germany in Thursday’s Euro 2012 semi-final.
In 120 goalless minutes against a poor English side Italy wasted chance after chance on Sunday but the fact they were creative and always tried to win the game bodes well for a nation with a sometimes unjustified reputation for dull play.
Pirlo is 33 but is in the running to be player of the tournament after scoring or setting up all of Italy’s goals in Ukraine and Poland while his spot kick in the 4-2 shooutout win had Tweeters and fans raving about his outrageous ability.
“I saw that the goalkeeper was really hyped and I thought I’d do it like that, it was easier to take it like that,” Pirlo told reporters after England’s Joe Hart had bounced up and down on the line and made funny faces.
“It created a bit of pressure on the keeper.”
The difference in class between his spot kick - reminiscient of Antonin Panenka for Czechoslovakia against West Germany in the 1976 final - and Hart’s antics was mirrored throughout a game which Italy dominated in terms of possession and chances.
Daniele De Rossi, who came off with a niggle and could be a doubt for Thursday, struck the post early on with a swerving long range drive while substitute Alessandro Diamanti also hit the woodwork before netting the decisive kick in the shootout.
Right back Ignazio Abate also came off with injury and his replacement Christian Maggio was booked, meaning he will miss the Warsaw semi-final, but for now Italy are enjoying their unexpected last four berth.
“I would not have expected it, but I always believed,” said Diamanti, once an also-ran with West Ham United in the English Premier League and now with Bologna. “Italy played a great game from the first minute to the last.”
Cesare Prandelli’s side came into the tournament with low expectations after a string of friendly defeats and another domestic match-fixing scandal which deprived the squad of left back Domenico Criscito, who denies wrongdoing.
Quiet man Prandelli even changed formation for the confidence-boosting 1-1 draw with holders Spain in their opening group game and although he has since reverted back to a four-man defence, his tactical mastery has many Italy fans purring.
Popular daily Gazzetta dello Sport was wildly enthusiastic on Monday with a front page headline of “A winning Italy, come on!” in the wake of the national team’s win and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso triumphing in the European Formula One Grand Prix.
Italians know they will struggle to motor past the flowing Germans but their rousing 2006 World Cup semi-final win over the hosts en route to the title amid another match-fixing affair gives them hope.
The fact Italy have never lost to Germany in a World Cup or European Championship match, winning three and drawing four, could also lead to rising expectations but if forward Mario Balotelli continues to misfire their dreams may be dashed. (Editing by Justin Palmer)