England are out of Euro 2012, yet again beaten before a semi final stage and yet again beaten on penalties after being outplayed for the majority of the match. At first glance it seems same old England but there were many positives to take from the game, particularly in the opening minutes of the encounter.
The fixture started with both teams attacking, Roma midfielder turn defender for Italy, Daniele de Rossi fired an exquisite curling shot from thirty yards that needed the post to stop Hart from picking the ball out of his net after only four minutes. However, only a minute later it was England’s turn to come close. Ashley Young crossed the ball which took a deflection before finding its way to Glen Johnson who poked the ball towards goal which brought a herculean save from the Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon. England continued to look lively, in particular Parker who was continuously winning the ball back from his team. Soon they came close again with Rooney failing to get onto the end of an incredible cross from Johnson on fourteen minutes.
As the half wore on the Italians started to take control of the game with Andrea Pirlo, who was dictating the game effortlessly like Geppetto controlling ten Pinocchios. Mario Balotelli resembled Usane Bolt at times as the Man City striker constantly tried to break free from the much slower Lescott and Terry. On 26 minutes he did just that as he got one on one only for Terry to make a superb recovery tackle which forced the ball into the arms of Hart. Italy would come close again with a couple of corners and Johnson and Cole had their work cut out with Balzaretti and Cassano starting to link up well. England had a rare chance in the thirty-third minute with Rooney blasting over but England were more relieved than a thirsty man finding an oasis in a desert when the half time whistle went.
Despite how the half ended with Italy on top, England started the second half brightly as Gerrard fired a shot on goal which fell to Rooney who couldn’t work his body to shoot. Seconds later Milner crossed dangerously only for the ball to be behind every England player. Soon the Italians were back on top when with De Rossi, who had earlier hit the post, managed to scuff his shot inches from goal. Italy continued to probe England’s resilient defence and on fifty-four minutes super Mario once again judged his run to perfection but Hart managed to get there first. Abate was another Italian player who had a fantastic game. He made Young look like a shell of his Manchester united and Aston Villa self. Italy were getting a lot of joy down his side of the pitch which caused Gerrard and Parker to help out leaving more space for Pirlo to control the game from the middle of the park. On the hour mark we nearly saw the goal of the Euros thus far as Balotelli, surrounded by white shirts, magnificently controlled Abate’s cross and attempted an amazing overhead kick that was narrowly over the bar. England’s goal continued to live a charmed life as both Pirlo and Balotelli forced saves from Hart and Montolivo fired just over the bar.
Roy now played his hand and sent on Carroll and Walcott for Milner and Welbeck. On paper this was a great choice as Carroll could hold up the ball to relieve the constant pressure the England back four was under and Theo could provide that electric pace on an England counter. Only five minutes later it nearly worked as Carroll just failed to get onto a Walcott cross which was followed up by Young narrowly missing the target. As the game drew closer to extra time Italy started to force the issue and Pirlo, once again pulling the strings, kept picking out dangerous passes such as the one that lead to Diamanti, formerly of West Ham, firing an excellent shot that required an equally excellent save from the England number one. Roy’s men rarely got forward in the last ten minutes,on the rare occasion they did play was wrongly stopped as Balzaretti makes the most of the contact he made with Parker stopping a promising England attack. Hogson’s men were now dangerously playing for the final whistle and Johnson had to make a crucial block to stop Nocerino’s attempt. In the last minute of added time England had their chance to win it. It was fantastic play, Cole delivered the ball into the box Carroll knocked it down to Rooney who failed at an overhead kick attempt. That was England’s chance to win the tie but it was not to be and the game went to extra time.
Despite England’s appalling record at penalties it looked like that’s that what they were playing for. Italy certainly weren’t and they continued to lay siege to the England goal getting closer and closer and after 115 minutes of play it looked like they had finally broken through only for Nocerino to be ruled offside. Italy would continue their onslaught but could not break down the stubborn England resistance and it went, as every England fan feared it would, to penalties.
Joe Hart is different from any other of the previous goal keepers that England have had in recent times. He’s full of confidence that is contagious, similar to Germanys Neuer, and he plays for one of the best teams in Europe, the English champions Manchester City. He made most of us think it would be different this time. It certainly looked that way when Montolivo dragged his shot wide and Rooney converted to make it 2-1 England. Around the country back at home we all started to believe this was England’s time and that our luck was changing, but after the fantastic Pirlo scored a cheeky chip normal service was resumed as Young put way too much power behind his shot which bounced off the bar. Cole, who could not emulate his penalty kick in the Champions League final missed his shot, leaving Diamanti to score and send Italy through.
It’s not all doom and gloom. England are out of the Euros, but there is much to look forward to despite all the negativity. Roy was without ten players that would have properly been on the plane had they been fit. When the World Cup in Brazil comes around players such as Hart Cahill, Welbeck and Wilshire will be at the right age to make a real impact. Hogson would have been in the job longer and will have time to build a team that can best play to his tactics. England has one of the best defences in the world. All that is needed is the attack to go with it. The future is bright. The future is Brazil.