| KRAKOW, Poland, July 25
KRAKOW, Poland, July 25 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
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
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)