The last semifinalists of Euro 2012 is Italy. The Azzuri defeated the English after 120 minutes of scintillating football and 6 kicks from the penalty spot, the first goal-less draw in the tournament and the first game to be decided on penalties. The game was an anachronism with Italy controlling the ball close to two-thirds of a time and attempting at the goal 33 times only to be denied by Joe Hart, the great English wall of defence or by pure, dumb unluck. But even then, it was far from a one-sided game unlike the Spain – France encounter. The English were always poised, confident and snatching the ball away from the Italians who played beautiful, calculated attack football with Pirlo as the orchestrator. The game was filled with fast and heart stopping moments throughout the entire 120 minutes with the constant threat of a goal always hung in the air, and the Azzuri, however hard they tried, could not get past the English defence which was for once, almost perfect considering the game the Azzuri played. Also, the reason for England not scoring a goal was plain simple: They didn’t have Andrea Pirlo.
The game started off on a frantic note right from the beginning when Daniele De Rossi smashed a viscious curling shot from outside the box into Hart’s left goal post. England came back only a minute later when James Milner’s right flank attack found itself in front of Glen Johnson‘s feet a meter away from the line. But he stumbled and his weak shot was scrambled away by Gianluigi Buffon. This set the pace of the game for the remaining of the time. Italy attacked again, and England countered with their own might. Johnson seemed to have been promoted from right-back to right-mid, as he seemed to be the centerpoint of English attack from the right flange at the start, tearing through the Azzuri defence every once in a while. But that did not last long. Also remarkable for England was James Milner who created some chances and was everywhere. But as the game progressed, Italy took over control of the midfield and it was them all the way since then. And the man in charge was Andrea Pirlo. He worked tirelessly spearheading Italy’s moves through all sides, careful, planned, flowing and beautiful looking attacks, partnered well by Antonio Cassano. There was no getting away the ball from his feet, his moves calculated and sublime. But all these were in the end dismantled by the English defence. They tried to scale that wall, and succeeded quite a many times in getting ahead of the line, only to be denied by John Terry and co. Federico Balzaretti was brilliant for Italy from the right flank, and was later joined by Alessandro Diamanti who replaced Cassano. But the man of the hour was the permanently unhappy-looking Mario Balotelli, who was frustrated by the English defence and Joe Hart time and time again, shooting into the air all around the goal on several occasions. And Daniele De Rossi fired one into outer space as well. Nothing much other than England blocking Italy’s chances and Italians firing the remaining into the air was what happened in the remainder of the game, save Rooney bicycle-kicking one into the stands.
The Great English Penalty Jinx.
Nothing much happened during extra time except for another shot by Diamanti hitting the post, a goal which was ruled offside and both sides were showing signs of serious fatigue. The came the penalties. The Penalty-takers were at the ready and Italy were first with Mario Balotelli finally finding the net. Steven Gerrard came in for England and beat Buffon to equalize. Riccardo Montolivo then heartbreakingly shot his take high over the bar, followed by Rooney who slotted the ball easily in giving England the advantage. Then came Andrea Pirlo. He waited for a second and then making it seem so easy, scooped the ball into the net in a slow, sublime classy shot which left Hart confounded, reaffirming why Pirlo is one of the best in the business. Then came the English jinx. The two Ashleys – Young and Cole missed, when the former hit the crossbar and the latter was denied by Buffon, while Nocerino converted in between, sealing England’s fate. Diamanti hit the decider home and the Azzuri exploded in joy as Italy were through 4 – 2, ending the best defensive battles in the tournament. The English were heartbroken. Again.
Italy had the clear upperhand throughout the game, no doubt about that. But the English seemed to be poised to score at any given moment, though that did not happen. In the end, Italy earned a deserved victory. If only Roy Hodgson had selected his penalty-takers better, maybe the result would have been different. But the English defence needs to be credited for holding out against the magic of Pirlo for a whole 120 minutes. And the star in their side was without doubt, Joe Hart, whose alertness alone thwarted atleast half a dozen goals. Italy have looked solid all through the tournament so far, with everything neatly working for them, though not at German-levels. Their style of play is also radically different from that of Germany, that is why it will be an interesting second semi final between the Azzuri and the Mannshaft!