Italy Beats England on Penalties to Reach European Semifinal
Italy set up a European Championship soccer semifinal with record three-time winner Germany after a 4-2 penalty shootout victory over England.
The Italians were forced to rely on the post-midnight shootout after failing to convert their superior play over 120 minutes at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev into a goal.
Substitute Alessandro Diamanti struck the decisive penalty after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole failed for England. Riccardo Montolivo missed for Italy, which had 35 shots to England’s nine by the end of the game and controlled 64 percent of possession.
“We knew it was going to be a tough match but we deserved to go through, the best team won,” Italy’s Andrea Pirlo said. “We’re all looking forward to getting through right to the end of the tournament.”
The winner of the June 28 semifinal will meet holder Spain or Portugal in the July 1 final. Italy last made the final of the competition in 2000 when it lost to France on a golden goal. Italy won the event in 1968.
“We tried our best, we worked as hard as we could,” England manager Roy Hodgson told reporters. “We survived the cramps and physical problems one or two had. Our defending was very resolute, especially during a strong set of attacking from a very good Italian team in the second half.”
Italy had gone five games without victory before qualifying for the quarterfinal by beating Ireland 2-0 in its final group-stage match. England has now lost eight of its 11 quarterfinals at major tournaments.
“In the penalty shootout I thought we might have got the bit of luck we needed but it wasn’t to be,” England captain Steven Gerrard told the British Broadcasting Corp. “Again we go home in heartbreak, which is difficult to take.”
The defeat means England has had only one win from seven major penalty shootouts: against Spain in Euro 1996.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli started Mario Balotelli ahead of Antonio Di Natale, while Montolivo and Leonardo Bonucci came in for the injured Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Motta. Hodgson, who was unbeaten in five games as England coach since being appointed to the post in May, named an unchanged lineup.
After an opening four minutes during which both teams might have scored, Italy controlled much of the game, dominating possession and having more efforts on goal.
Daniele De Rossi struck the angle of post and crossbar from 25 yards, then Glen Johnson missed when well placed for England with the game’s next attack. The Liverpool defender hit his shot off a deflected James Milner cross too close to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who was able to scoop the ball away.
Wayne Rooney headed a Johnson cross over before Italy created a series of openings.
John Terry made a crucial block to deny Balotelli in the 26th minute when the striker tried to flick the ball over England goalkeeper Joe Hart. The Italy striker kicked the post in frustration five minutes before halftime when Manchester City clubmate Joleon Lescott stretched ahead of Balotelli to knock the ball away from just in front of goal.
Italy spurned further chances at the start of the second half. De Rossi held his head in his hands after 48 minutes when he missed the target with a volley from four yards out. Balotelli and Montolivo then passed up consecutive opportunities that arose after Hart could only parry De Rossi’s powerful shot.
Hodgson reacted to his team’s difficulties by making a double substitution after 60 minutes, bringing on Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott for Danny Welbeck and Milner. It didn’t immediately work as the Italians continued to dominate. By the 70th minute Italy had created 19 chances to England’s six and had controlled 60 percent of the possession.
Prandelli made his changes with about 10 minutes to go, bringing on Diamanti and Antonio Nocerino for Antonio Cassano and De Rossi. With two minutes of the 90 left Nocerino was denied by Johnson just as the ball looked to be heading into the net. A minute before referee Pedro Proenca called extra time Rooney drew gasps from the crowd with an overhead kick that ended up high over Buffon’s bar.
Thirty minutes’ extra time failed to break the deadlock as the match headed for the penalty shootout. Five minutes from the end, Nocerino had the ball in the net but the effort was disallowed for offside.
Italy’s victory marked its third win in eight penalty shootouts.
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