The FIFA World Cups in Italia 1990, France 1998, Germany 2006, the European Championships in England 1996, and Portugal 2004 – five major events in the last 22 years have seen England being knocked out on penalty shoot-outs and that specter has come to haunt The Three Lions yet again as England take an early flight home from the European Championship in Poland and Ukraine after being knocked out of the quarter finals by Italy. For those cynics who believe that the English have been just unlucky with their defeats in penalty shoot-outs, which are more of a Russian Roulette than proper football, the match between the 1966 FIFA World Cup winners and the former four time winners of the FIFA World Cup showed exactly why it is all about football and nerves and not a jackpot lottery.
As England choked yet again in penalty shoot-outs, the Italians went on to book their place in the semi final against the German juggernaut. Throughout the match, the Italians hardly ever looked like losing and the tone was set very early on when Daniele de Rossi thundered a left footed drive towards Joe Hart’s goal, only to be denied by the upright. England could count them lucky that they were able to take the match to penalties after the proceedings of the match, during which The Azzurri should have at least scored three goals if they had a world class striker in front to lead the line.
England started with Wayne Rooney and his Manchester United team mate Danny Welbeck upfront, with four in midfield and four in defense and Joe Hart in goal. In spite of playing with two out and out strikers, England hardly looked like scoring anytime in the match, so few were the opportunities. The only time that England came close to opening the scoring was when right back Glen Johnson stole in behind the Italian defense and missed a clean header.
The Italians had by far the most open chances of the match and if they had a forward like Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi or even Fernando Torres, they would have put the game to rest by full time. As the match went into extra time, the England players were the ones that were extremely tired, the result of a long drawn and tiring season of the English Premier League and were facing exit in extra time had it not been for the offside flag against Antonio Nocerino.
As the match went into penalties, both Mario Balotelli and Steven Gerrard scored for their team and when Riccardo Montolivo missed his penalty, Rooney put England 2-1 up. Andrea Pirlo scored to tie the match and then Ashley Young thundered his penalty against the cross bar as Nocerino put the Italians ahead for the first time. Up stepped Ashley Young, usually reliable with spot kicks when playing for Chelsea but his weak effort was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon. And former West Ham striker Alessandro Diamanti scored the Italians’ final kick to send England home early, once again.