Italy beat England 4-2 on penalties on Sunday to set up a semi-final clash with Germany. Here are the five key moments which helped the Azzurris win.
5th minute: When Buffon denied Johnson
The Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev got off to a rip-roaring start, and by the fifth minute, England had already created a gilt-edged chance.
Just as was the case with Wayne Rooney`s overhead kick in the dying minutes of normal time, a chance from point blank range fell to Glen Johnson slightly awkwardly and he couldn`t quite convert with a stubbed effort from barely six yards that was wonderfully plucked out of the air by Gianluigi Buffon in the Italy goal.
It was a decisive moment not specifically for the opportunity itself – although it was a good one – but for symbolising England`s failure, for the first time during Euro 2012, to score the first goal of the match.
The longer it took them to find it, the more unlikely it became. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker`s fitness was severely tested in the Three Lions` opening match against France, and not helped by the exhausting tackles and blocks that had been required of them in the second half both in Donetsk and again here. Jordan Henderson eventually replaced the latter but it was Gerrard`s influence as the match wore on that was missed most.
England`s captain was their best player in this competition but as his driving play from central midfield faded, so did his country`s chances of ever breaking the deadlock.
25th minute: Balotelli sets the tone
That the game even ended up going to penalties was down to Italy’s profligacy in front of goal and Mario Balotelli was particularly culpable in that regard.
Indeed, the Manchester City forward should have opened the scoring midway through the first half. Super Mario had done everything right, timing his run in behind England’s defence to perfection before expertly killing a predictably sublime ball over the top with his first touch.
However, the same lackadaisical attitude which saw him pass up a golden opportunity against Spain was again in evidence as the forward took just a fraction too long setting himself, thus allowing John Terry to get back and block his attempted lob over Joe Hart.
Balotelli proved that he does not lack composure or bottle by slotting home Italy’s first penalty of the shoot-out, but his lack of urgency and killer instinct in open play remains a concern.
78th minute: Diamanti gets his chance
Montolivo showed some lovely touches during the game and played a terrific ball through for Balotelli during the opening period, but this game only served to underline that the AC Milan man is not a trequartista. It is not his fault, of course; it has never been his position, and it never will be.
However, Alessandro Diamanti is capable of playing ‘in the hole’ and he proved that after coming on with just over 10 minutes of normal time remaining. He is a desperately hit-and-miss character but he is nothing if not dynamic and inventive, though there was no doubt that his cross which struck the post in extra time was just that – a cross.
Just like Antonio Nocerino, the Bologna man oozed energy when he came on and injected some life into a game that was showing diminishing vital signs. It was no coincidence, then, that both men stepped forward to take penalties in the shoot-out and that both scored, with Diamanti’s strike sparing his strikers’ blushes by clinching Italy a deserved place in the semis.
Penalty shoot-out: Pirlo turns the tide
If we’re talking about bottle, though, it would be downright offensive of us not to bring up Andrea Pirlo’s penalty, which was as delightfully nonchalant as it was crucial.
With Riccardo Montolivo having missed the Azzurri’s second spot-kick and Rooney having converted emphatically to make it 2-1 to England, the shootout appeared to have swung decisively in favour of Roy Hodgson’s men. Andrea Pirlo knew he had to score as he calmly approached the area. The pressure was on.
It did not show - not one bit. The playmaker ever so casually chipped his penalty into the middle of the goal as a hapless Hart watched on from the left-hand side on the goal having attempted to get the jump on Pirlo. It was arguably the most ballsy penalty the European Championship has seen since Antonín Panenka`s for the Czech Republic in 1976.
It did not decide the game but it was hugely influential as its audacity visibly lifted Italy’s players – Antonio Nocerino could not help but smile and it was no surprise that having been inspired by Pirlo, he buried his subsequent penalty.
Penalty shoot-out: The Ashleys flop
It seemed to be written in the stars. Posts have been struck, saves have been made and phantom goals have been scored – there was something about England at Euro 2012.
They have been lucky, of that there is no doubt, but there seemed to be a belief about the camp, just like the one that engulfed Chelsea on their way to the Champions League, that this was the Three Lions` time.
The good fortune ran out in familiar style. England seemed to be on their way to exorcising their shoot-out demons when Montolivo fired wide, but Ashley Young – who has looked strangely low on confidence throughout this tournament – hammered his penalty against the bar before Buffon guessed right and easily claimed a weak Ashley Cole effort.
Italy controlled the game and deserved their victory, but Young and Cole now join Waddle, Pearce, Southgate, Batty, Beckham et al in England`s hall of penalty infamy.