They did it!!! After 120 minutes of an exciting, dominated, tense encounter, culminating in the dreaded penalty shootout, Italy have beaten England and qualified for the Euro 2012 semifinal!!
The Azzurri deserved it. They played better than their opponents, with more attacking verve and a more positive attitude. They dominated possession and created more chances than the Three Lions, hit the post twice and saw a goal in extra time called off for offside. But ultimately the British catenaccio, which worked so well for Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League, would not be rewarded. England had only waited for penalties: after a nonetheless good counter-attacking match they were incapable of creating any danger for Buffon during extra time, and ultimately the psychological burden of the spot-kicks was too great.
To tip the balance, one man was necessary: Andrea PIRLO. With Italy down by a goal, up stepped the Juventus playmaker for the Azzurri’s third shot of the series (Balotelli had scored the 1st, Montolivo missed the 2nd). In net, Joe Hart was channeling his best Bruce Grobbelaar antics and trying with all means possible to upset the Italian shooters. Not Pirlo. Not tonight. “Hart was gassed up, I had to do something” would he declare to the press moments later. And he did.
To the world, Antonín Panenka seemed to be back on the playing field. To everyone in Italy, it reminded us of not-so-distant times in Netherlands/Belgium, when another Azzurro by the name of Francesco Totti had tried the very same thing against the Netherlands, in June 2000. Back then, we all hailed the carelessness, the gall, the madness, the genius… in short, the cojones to try something like that in an Euro playoff match. Just as we did Sunday evening, where the simplicity and complete self-control of Pirlo as he took that spot-shot instantaneously erased Montolivo’s miss and lifted collective Italian hearts. While at the same time casting doubt into English minds…
Why did Ashley Young miss his shot? Was it fatigue? Was it the noise created by the 65,000 fans of Kiev’s Olympic stadium? Was it the weight of decades of English disappointment whenever penalty kicks are involved? Perhaps even Young himself may not know. But what I choose to believe is that, after having seen Pirlo’s stone-cold execution of finesse, the Man Utd player decided to go the complete opposite way: power. And nerves did a trick on him. Perhaps much like they did to Ashley Cole who, by the declarations of Roy Hodgson, “had never missed a penalty during practice” up to that moment.
In their purest brilliant-headline tradition, English papers titled “Ashleys to Ashes” the very next day. Young and Cole had sent England home from the Euro. But in truth, it was that one man, that incredible footballing genius named Andrea PIRLO who, with a simple touch of his boot, had paved the way for an Italian triumph.
Now onto Germany!!
MATCH REVIEW (by Marco Pantanella)
The first half was a very exciting affair: both teams going for the win, and the 0-0 halftime scoreline being more the result of imprecise shooting (the Azzurri’s particularly) than genuine lack of scoring chances. Just three minutes in, Daniele De Rossi (who had an excellent game) hit the post with a marvelous left-footed volley from outside the area. Moments later, England hit back: Milner surged down the right and crossed for Johnson, whose mishit shot from point-blank range was kept out by a reflex save of Gigi BUFFON.
Never mind ‘catenaccio’: in the first 15 minutes England attacked relentlessly, particularly down the flanks. Wayne Rooney, who was constantly booed by Ukrainian fans (his goal had eliminated the home side a few days prior) found himself at the end of Glen Johnson cross and missed the goal’s frame by mere yards. BUFFON was NOT happy, but it was then that Italy started to get into their stride, controlling possession of the ball and pressing forward just as Hodgson had feared. What the England manager had not expected however, was the amount of chances the Azzurri would blow away. Particularly through Balotelli…
Let’s proceed in order: first, the Man City striker was put clean on goal after a marvelous Pirlo pass, but allowed John Terry to recuperate and block the shot. Then, after a great assist from Montolivo, he sent a well-executed side-volley straight at Joe Hart. Another few minutes, another chance: this time set up by Cassano, whose headed redirect across goal found the Man City striker short by only a few inches. Mario’s anger was rising. After kicking the post in frustration the forward would vent his nerves in a healthier way, namely by blasting a 35-yard cannonball that finished its course over the crossbar by only a few feet. Needless to say the English were under pressure, but still managed to be dangerous on the break (Rooney & Welbeck combining to set up the latter with a shot over the crossbar). After 45 minutes, it was still 0-0.
Italy started the second half right where they left off. Set up by MARCHISIO, De Rossi had a golden chance from point-blank range but scoffed his shot in almost scandalous fashion. DDR tried his luck again a few minutes later from further out, setting up Balotelli and Montolivo in quick succession after Joe Hart had failed to control the ball. A triple chance for the Azzurri, but still no goals!
Hodgson decided to send in fresh forces: height (Andy Carroll) and speed (Theo Walcott) to upset the match balance. Carroll’s stature certainly helped, as the Liverpool front man first set up Ashley Young (shot blocked) then Wayne Rooney right at the death, for an acrobatic overhead kick that could have meant the winner for England. But Roo hit his effort too soon, over the crossbar, setting up a further 30 minutes of action in Kiev. In the meantime, Prandelli had replaced Cassano, De Rossi, and Abate with Diamanti, Nocerino, and Maggio.
Once into extra time the game slowed down a bit, and at this point the English gameplan was clear: long balls towards Andy Carroll. Italy’s domination and passing continued but their runs became less penetrating, although they still did enough to hit a post with a Diamanti cross-shot. The recently-acquired Bologna midfielder (his co-ownership was resolved earlier this week) was playing extremely well, bamboozling the tired English defenders and setting up Nocerino for the only goal of the match. But it was offside.
In the end, the game had to go to penalties. And the better team deservedly won!
LE PAGELLE dei Juventini (by Marco Pantanella)
BUFFON 8.0 – It’s true that Gigi had very little to do this evening, all things considered. But a rating of 8.0 is warranted primarily for two reasons: the first, Glen Johnson’s “shot” which Gigi went on to grab with a single hand in almost casual fashion, but through a nonetheless capital save to make. The second, saving Ashley Cole’s spot-kick and setting up Diamanti for the eventual winner. GRANDE GIGI!!
BONUCCI 7.0 – For those that worried Leo would not be as aggressive or as “mean” in man-marking than Chiellini, or that the 4-man backline was going to be difficult to handle… well they can breathe a lot easier. A great, defensively-solid game by Bonucci, who not only showed his usual prowess at anticipation, but kept his excursions forward down to a minimum.
BARZAGLI 6.5 – Much like Bonucci, a very solid game by the Juve center-back. Did not give the England strikers much space, and was attentive during their counter-attacking bouts. Was perhaps a bit lucky on the diving header (1st half) and the overhead kick (in the 90th) orchestrated by Rooney, as he lost his man in both occasions. Fortunately England did not score.
MARCHISIO 6.5 – A great, tonic display by Principino, as per his usual custom. Did not go into penetration as much like with Juve, but the necessities of Italy’s formation today warranted more a passing / build-up game than what he’s used to. Still, set up De Rossi and Nocerino with two wonderful balls than really deserved better fate!
PIRLO 8.0 – Just for the way that he shot (and scored) his penalty kick, Pirlo deserves a virtual “10.0″ (of course, had he missed said shot, we’d be talking about a virtual “0.0″ but let’s not go over that now). But in truth, Andrea’s “cucchiaio” only represents a small bonus in the rating, for it’s what Pirlo did for 120 minutes prior to it that truly deserves applause. Countless passes (131 to be precise, high above anyone else on the pitch), numerous through balls (especially for Balotelli), and a continuous reference point for his teammates. Absolute LEGEND.
PLAY-BY-PLAY (by Marco Pantanella)
|•||ITALY vs. ENGLAND! The Azzurri face off against England again after 10 years (international friendly), and 22 years in official competitions (1990 FIFA World Cup 3rd place playofff). Unless you count the Tournoi de France in 1998… The last time around at the Euros was in 1980.|
|•||Italy haven’t lost to England for 15 years, 35 years in official competitions.|
|•||Formation-wise, Prandelli must do without the injured CHIELLINI. He is replaced by his Juventino mate Leonardo BONUCCI. No other changes in defense, but some in midfield & attack, notably Riccardo Montolivo and Mario Balotelli supplanting Thiago Motta and Di Natale respectively.|
|•||On England’s side, no changes for Roy Hodgson: it’s the same starting eleven who beat Ukraine.|
|1′||Portuguese referees Pedro Proença officiates. And we’re off!!|
|1′||Balotelli with the first shot of the game. Highly speculative and scoffed into the ground. Never a problem for Hart.|
|2′||Good long pass by De Rossi towards Balotelli. It’s picked up by MARCHISIO and eventually slipped through to Balzaretti just on the edge of the box. His cross can’t find anyone at the far post.|
|3′||De Rossi!! MARCHISIO cross from the right, back towards 30 yards out to DDR, who slams an outswinging left-footed blast that curls its way onto the post!!! Hart was beaten!! What a shot!!|
|5′||Jonhson!! Good Lord. England equalizing in terms of goalscoring chances immediately!!! After two fortunate deflections off a Milner cross, Johnson finds himself completely alone in front of BUFFON and there is the need for Gigi’s big gloved hand to keep the ball out of the net!!!|
|7′||Milner very active on England’s right wing.|
|9′||Italy with a potential breakway on the left, tries to find Balotelli but puts too much weight in his through ball.|
|11′||Rooney away on the left wing, low cross for Welbeck at the first post. BONUCCI‘s foot is there to clear it into corner. His header then clears the ensuing set piece.|
|12′||Johnson with some trickery on the right gets rid of Balzaretti and De Rossi in quick succession. His cross can’t find anyone. The counter-cross from the left is punched away by BUFFON, straight to Parker who tries his luck on the volley. Wide.|
|14′||Rooney!! Johnson cross from the right, Rooney throws himself into a diving header that goes over Gigi’s crossbar, under pressure from BONUCCI!! Another close shave for Italy!|
|16′||Good example on how Enland are quick on the break: a few quick passes from defense and they’re off to the right wing. Gerrard to Rooney, but his cross is off the mark.|
|17′||PIRLO FK on the right wing. Cross to Balzaretti to the far post. Counter-cross. Too long and out.|
|18′||Ohhhh!! Lovely play between Cassano and MARCHISIO, whose flick over the D-line for Fantantonio is a tad long! Hart comes rushing out to retrieve the ball!!|
|20′||Cassano advances centrally, gets just to the edge of the England box, but once again fails to pull the trigger on time before being blocked. A constant event in this tournament…|
|22′||Cassano arms his shot from 25 yards. It’s got power, but not accuracy.|
|25′||Balotelli!! Through on goal thanks to PIRLO‘s pass, he squanders it by allowing Terry to recover and smother the shot!! Too slow again, though much less so than against Spain.|
|29′||Montolivo from distance. Wide.|
|32′||Balotelli!! Once again through a lovely PIRLO pass over the English defense, Mario arms a rotating half-volley that’s well-struck but straight at Joe Hart!|
|33′||Welbeck!! Just like before, where they equalized scoring chances with Johnson, England obtain one right after the Azzurri through Danny Welbeck. He skies a cheeky Rooney backheel from a good position!|
|34′||Now Cassano from mid-range. Low and wide to the left of Hart’s goal.|
|34′||Match Stats: Italy dominating possession 60% at the moment.|
|37′||Great slide tackle by De Rossi to dispossess Rooney. My TV commentator just pointed out there have been only 5 fouls called in this game so far. Interesting…|
|38′||Cassano!! From mid-range, this time he strikes it very well towards the top-right corner! Hart has to fly to save it!|
|41′||BONUCCI, Montolivo, and De Rossi with a lovely combination to try and penetrate this tight English defense. Cleared.|
|41′||Balotelli!! PIRLO cross towards the right post, Cassano with the headed redirect across goal! Balotelli goes for the finish but the boot of Lescott prevents an almost certain tap-in by the City striker!!|
|43′||Balotelli!! Fires an absolute howitzer from 35 yards!! Narrowly over Joe Hart’s crossbar!|
|45′||HALF TIME. An entertaining match in Kiev so far, but still no goals between England & Italy.|
|46′||We’re back. With no changes for either team during the HT break.|
|46′||England immediately dangerous, with Parker finding Rooney inside the box, but the Man U forward fails to pull the trigger.|
|47′||Italy’s reply: Abate away on the right wing, with a tight cross across goal but no one there for the redirect. Italy get a corner.|
|48′||De Rossi!! Incredible miss by DDR!! Following Italy’s corner, the English mistime their offside trap and Marchisio’s header finds De Rossi completely unmarked, but from point-blank range DDR scoffs his left-footed volley wide!!|
|49′||Rooney into the Italian box on the left, well-tackled by Abate. Corner England. Nothing comes out of it.|
|52′||Match stats: in the first half, the top England passer managed 15 passes. The top Italian one: 41!|
|52′||TRIPLE OPPORTUNITY FOR ITALY!!! De Rossi fires it in from 25 yards, Hart punches it, it lands to Balotelli who shoots from short-range, Hart saves with his thigh! Ball loops to Montolivo who’s got the entire goal at this disposal but cannot adjust his jumping volley on target!! Over the crossbar!!!!!!!!|
|54′||Balotelli tries to free himself on the right wing. Does so. Play transitions towards the center with Cassano opening it up for MARCHISIO, but his scooped pass is behind Claudio and the play dies down.|
|55′||Great defending by Balzaretti to dispossess Gerrard on the left.|
|56′||Great through ball by PIRLO to find Abate on the right! Tackled into corner by Ashley Cole. Nothing comes out of it.|
|57′||The Azzurri multiply their offensives on the right. Good Abate pressure to free up Cassano, but his delicate chip to the far post finds no one. Neither does Balzaretti’s counter-cross.|
|58′||Abate & Young with an accidental head clashing. Both players stay on the ground.|
|60′||Balotelli!! Lovely control inside the box, off a looping ball he sets himself up for a bicycle kick!! Over the crossbar!|
|61′||Substitutions England: Carroll & Walcott come on for Welbeck & Milner.|
|63′||Another good Italian build-up: Balotelli on the right, back to PIRLO outside the box, goes for the cross to the left for De Rossi, but DDR can’t redirect it across goal!|
|64′||Storming DDR tackle to dispossess Ashley Young!|
|65′||Young!! Walcott crosses it in towards Carroll. Abate can’t clear it properly, it lands to Young whose effort at goal is deflected into corner!!|
|65′||Off the corner, offensive foul called against England.|
|66′||Balotelli advances centrally, relays it off to MARCHISIO who goes for the left-footed effort. Blocked. Play continues, Carroll brings De Rossi down on the edge of the England box, but he got the ball first.|
|70′||De Rossi tries to find Cassano on the right wing with a great aerial through ball. But it’s a few yards too long!|
|72′||Looks like Gerrard has cramps. He lays down on the playing surface. He’ll be fine though.|
|75′||Italy with a really tough time at opening the English bean can. The Three Lions are defending very well, so the Azzurri often resort to long-range shooting, to moderate success. The last attempt was by Montolivo (blocked).|
|76′||Dangerous Gerrard free kick from 40 yards! His cross takes a bounce off the turf and would sneak into the far post untouched, but BUFFON is attentive.|
|78′||Substitution Italy: Diamanti comes on for Cassano. Azzurri switching to a 4-4-1-1?|
|79′||Long throw for Italy. Abate goes for Balotelli, who makes Hart’s clearance considerably more difficult. Italy win a corner.|
|80′||Substitution Italy: Nocerino comes on for De Rossi, who apparently hurt his sciatic nerve. Great game by DDR though.|
|81′||Diamanti!! Powerful effort from the edge of the box, well-held by Hart!|
|82′||Match Stats: 23 attempts on goal (14 on target) for Italy, 6 (2) by England!!!|
|82′||Yellow card BARZAGLI for studs-up challenge on Young. Fortunately he wasn’t on the diffidati list and will not miss the next match if Italy go through.|
|83′||On the developments of the free kick, ball blocked, it lands to Parker who’s in turn blocked by Balzaretti, but ends up kicking him the face falling down. Play stopped to allow the medics in.|
|87′||Carroll, on the edge of the Italy box, goes for a shot but is well-blocked by a BONUCCI slide-tackle.|
|89′||Nocerino!!! Incredible pass by MARCHISIO to find the AC Milan midfielder unmarked inside the box!! But Nocerino’s effort is deflected at the last second by Johnson!!! GOLDEN opportunity for Italy!!!|
|90′||THREE MINUTES OF ADDED TIME.|
|91′||Substitution Italy: Maggio comes on for Abate. Good game by Ignazio, very active on the right wing and probably tired.|
|93′||Rooney!! England giving me a near-heart attack as a passing build-up culminates into a Wayne Rooney overhead kick from 10 yards!! Over the crossbar!!|
|94′||FULL-TIME. 0-0 after 90 minutes. We are officially going into EXTRA TIME!|
EXTRA TIME – 1st HALF
|90′||Off we go for (at least) another 30 minutes of a very tense (but very fairplay) match!|
|91′||Tactics-wise, I believe Italy are now playing in a 4-1-3-2 formation, with PIRLO in front of the defense and Diamanti slightly behind Balotelli.|
|94′||Yellow card Maggio for an absolutely imaginary foul on Young. Referee Proença with the first (delayed, on top of that) blunder of the night. And it’s a costly one, because Maggio will have to miss Italy’s next game.|
|94′||Substitution England: Henderson comes on for Parker.|
|95′||Off the free kick, yet another heart attack for me as the ball trickles through a forest of legs before BUFFON eventually picks it up. But the lfag was up for offside anyway…|
|96′||WAAAARGHHHHHHH!!! Another amazing ball by PIRLO towards Balotelli, onside through on goal, but he can’t hook it under control!!!!!!!!!!!|
|98′||Long cross by Young to the far side for Walcott, well-grabbed by BUFFON. Off to the other end, Balotelli fires it from mid-range, blocked by Lescott.|
|99′||Another attempt by Mario, this time only smothered by an English defender but still little trouble for Hart.|
|100′||And Balotelli again!! Finds himself with some space outside the England box, tries to squeeze in a shot between Lescott & Terry but it’s too central to worry the English keeper.|
|101′||Diamanti!! Tries to curl a cross towards Nocerino but it ends up beating Hart and striking the base of the left post and out!! No luck for Italy, it’s the same woodwork hit by De Rossi in the first half!!|
|103′||Very slow build-up by the Azzurri who, with England completely entrenched in their own half, are trying to find a chink in the English armor.|
|105′||One minute of added time.|
|106′||Just before half-time of extra time is whistled, dangerous Johnson incursion into the Italy box, with a cross redirected by Carroll across goal, but not before the ball had crossed the line. Goal Kick Italia.|
EXTRA TIME – 2nd HALF
|105′||Final 15 minutes of the match.|
|107′||Maggio through on the right with a cross, Lescott slips but Terry behind him is there to clear.|
|108′||Diamanti with a crossing attempt towards the far post for Balotelli. Too long and too wide.|
|109′||Match stats: Ball possession 63% Italy with 720 passes completed (309 for England)!!|
|109′||Maggio on the right gets past Young, who impedes his progress. Good FK opportunity for Italy.|
|110′||Diamanti on the delivery, cleared by Lescott, PIRLO counter-cross, cleared by Carroll!!|
|111′||Another free kick conceded by England, this time for a Carroll foul on MARCHISIO. It’s slightly on the right about 30 yards out from Hart’s goal…|
|112′||Free kick is skied by Balotelli. Quite a poor effort.|
|113′||Since his entrance, Diamanti has been playing extremely well! Brilliant opening by the Bologna mid to the right towards Maggio. Play continues, ball back to left side, low cross by PIRLO towards Diamanti whose effort at goal goes over!!|
|114′||Maggio cross from the right which, completely by chance, lands to Balotelli who can’t get it under control.|
|115′||AAAAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Italy score through Nocerino after some more brilliant work by Diamanti, but he was a yard offside on the cross!!!!|
|117′||Corner kick Italy. Man, what a game… Italy deserve this!!|
|117′||Diamanti’s corner finds no one and lands into goal kick. England can breathe again…|
|119′||Poor effort by Montolivo, who goes for a low one from mid-range but in no way troubles Hart. Wide and out.|
|120′||Diamanti earning a vital free kick on the right wing. Last chance of the game? But Italy end up playing it quick and the play dies down…|
|120′||ALL OVER IN KIEV BETWEEN ENGLAND AND ITALY. A 0-0 draw after 120 minutes means a PENALTY SHOOTOUT WILL DECIDE THE WINNER!!|
|•||My guess for Italy’s PK takers… PIRLO, Diamanti, Montolivo, BONUCCI, Balotelli.|
|•||Italy have won the coin toss. BUFFON electing to shoot first.|
|•||Fist-bump betwen Gigi & Hart before the series begins. I have to say, this has been an extremely clean match. Very very nice to see.|
|#1 ITA||It’ll be Balotelli for Italy’s first. Smiles between him and his goalkeeping Man City teammate.|
|BALOTELLI SCORES!!! Low into the bottom-left corner!! Hart dives the right way. 1-0 ITALY!!|
|#1 ENG||Gerrard for England…|
|Gerrard GOAL. Same way as Balotelli, BUFFON also guessing correctly but it goes in!! 1-1.|
|MONTOLIVO SENDS IT WIDE!!!!!!!! ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!|
|#2 ENG||Rooney for England…|
|GOAL. Sends BUFFON the wrong way. 2-1 England.|
|#3 ITA||PIRLO for Italy… FORZA ANDREA!!|
|PIRLO WITH THE CUCCHIAIO!!!!!!!!!!! Oh dear mother of God!! 2-2!!!!!!!|
|#3 ENG||Ashley Young for England…|
|STRIKES THE CROSSBAR!!! Still 2-2, and back level on shots!! England have lost their advantage!!!|
|#4 ITA||Nocerino! FORZA ANTONIO!!!|
|NOCERINO GOAL!!! Hart the wrong way!!! 3-2 ITALIA!!!!|
|#4 ENG||Ashley Cole for England…|
|GIGIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!! HE SAVES IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!|
|#5 ITA||DIAMANTI!!! FORZA!!!|
|•||4-2 ON PENALTY SHOTS, ITALY ARE THROUGH TO THE SEMIFINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!|
|PENALTY SHOOTOUT: Balotelli (I) goal, Gerrard (E) goal, Montolivo (I) wide, Rooney (E) goal, PIRLO (I) goal, Young (E) crossbar, Nocerino (I) goal, A.Cole (E) saved, Diamanti (I) goal|
|ENGLAND (4-4-2): Hart – Johnson, Terry, Lescott, A.Cole – Milner (60′ Walcott), Gerrard, Parker (94′ Henderson), Young – Welbeck (60′ Carroll), Rooney. COACH: Hodgson. |
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: Green, Butland, Kelly, Baines, Jones, Jagielka, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Downing, Defoe).
|ITALY (4-3-1-2): BUFFON – Abate (90′ Maggio), BARZAGLI, BONUCCI, Balzaretti – MARCHISIO, PIRLO, De Rossi (80′ Nocerino) – Montolivo – Balotelli, Cassano (78′ Diamanti). COACH: Prandelli.|
(UNUSED SUBSTITUTES: De Sanctis, Sirigu, CHIELLINI, Ogbonna, GIACCHERINI, Thiago Motta, Borini, GIOVINCO, Di Natale).