England’s parked bus heads home after yet more penalty heartbreak
Adam Hurrey's crusade to analyse, in excruciating depth, the unique language of football.
In the 4th quarterfinal of Euro 2012, Italy advanced to a semifinal meeting with Germany following a penalty shootout win over England. After a painful evening, Adam Hurrey reports the morning after.
No team in international football is more terrified of the ball.
Dominated from start to finish by an Italian side who didn’t have the weaponry to finish them off in 120 minutes, England finally succumbed 4-2 on penalties in Kiev. Roy Hodgson’s tactics, dreadful to witness but yet entirely fitting for such a limited team, very nearly paid off. What might have happened in a semi-final against a cruising (and rather more rested) German side does not bear thinking about. The Italians deservedly prevailed to face that test, while England can satisfy themselves that they progressed as far as they realistically could have hoped.
England were on the rack from the very start. Daniele DeRossi cut across the ball after two minutes and his volley struck the post with Joe Hart at full stretch. Glen Johnson then had England’s best chance when the ball fell to him six yards out, but his dug-out finish was claimed easily by a relieved Gianluigi Buffon. With five minutes gone in a frenetic start to the match, that was as close as England would get to finding a winner.
Hodgson’s balanced midfield approach, with the tireless Milner complemented by the slippery Ashley Young, was undermined by the latter’s limp performance. Lacking pace, endeavour and the sheer know-how that tends to come in quite handy in major tournaments, Young has epitomised the gulf between English football and the rest. The final nail in England’s coffin was perhaps the sight of £35m Andy Carroll scrapping desperately for a touch of the ball upfront, while Andrea Pirlo waltzed around the England midfield with consummate ease.
Extra-time came and went, as it so often does, without a breakthrough. Italy thought they had won it with the penalty shoot-out looming,but the assistant’s flag cut short Antonio Nocerino’s celebrations. England had ended up playing for penalties, and now they had to step up to face a familiar demon. Joe Hart did his best to unsettle a nerveless Mario Balotelli for the opening spot-kick, but it was despatched coolly. Gerrard slotted home for England before the first twist in the tale – Riccardo Montolivo’s penalty flew wide of Hart’s right-hand post. Rooney thumped home his penalty to pile the pressure on the Italians, who would have struggled to comprehend a tournament exit after firing nearly 40 shots at England’s goal in the two hours before this.
Pirlo’s response to the situation, and Hart’s goal-line gurning, was to float a delightful chip down the middle. Up stepped a terrified-looking Ashley Young, and a miss was inevitable – his effort thumped against the bar, and the advantage had gone. Nocerino put Italy ahead before Ashley Cole made the long walk to face Buffon. A stuttering run-up produced a tame shot to Buffon's left, and Italy finally had a chance to put England out of their misery. Alessandro Diamanti sent Joe Hart the wrong way and the Italians celebrated their well-earned semi-final place.
The calm Hodgson’s reputation may have been enhanced ahead of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He will be able to call on some genuinely compelling new talent in what is sure to be England’s latest transitional period, but the realisation is finally sinking in that the problem lies not with the individuals. The sheer pace of Premier League football means that the national team will never caress the ball in the well-documented manner of Spain, but yet another cramp-inducing 120 minutes of carelessness may finally make English football wake up and smell the coffee.
Adam will be covering Euro 2012 for the BettingExpert blog with thanks to our friends at Betfair.
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