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If England needed any more motivation for their quarter-final against Italy, the knowledge that a victory would set up a semi-final with arch-rivals Germany certainly would.
Italy came close to taking the lead early on when Daniele De Rossi hit a curling volley from outside the penalty box, which had goalkeeper Joe Hart beaten. Fortunately for England, the shot cannoned back off the post before being cleared from the danger zone.
Another golden opportunity presented itself just a minute later; this time it was England’s turn to come close, with a low cross falling to Glen Johnson in the penalty area. The England defenders’ shot was saved expertly by Gianluigi Buffon to keep the scores level.
Although the game quieted down from its frenetic opening minutes, both teams were still playing a brand of attacking football unexpected by most coming into the game. Many pundits had predicted a cagey, defensively dominated affair between the two teams, but with twenty minutes played, the game seemed anything but that.
With half an hour gone the Italians seemed to be gaining the upper hand, controlling the pace of the game and shading the possession battle. This spell of dominance presented two clear chances for controversial striker Mario Balotelli, but the Italian was denied firstly by a last ditch John Terry tackle and secondly by a good low save from Hart.
Despite their dominance, and further chances for both Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, Italy was unable to take a lead before the interval, although there were no doubts that Cesare Prandelli was the happier of the two managers as both teams left the field for half-time.
If De Rossi was cursing his luck following his shot which hit the post in the first half, his self-berating was a little early. In the second half, after England cleared their lines from a corner, the ball was knocked back into the penalty area and reached De Rossi who scuffed his shot when one on one with Hart.
Things went from bad to worse for England as Italy enjoyed a succession of chances from Balotelli and Ricardo Montolivo. They seemed to beat England’s offside trap time after time, only to be denied by a combination of poor finishing and the goalkeeping heroics of Hart.
The double substitution of Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott on for Danny Welbeck and James Milner respectively seemed to breathe some life into England, who began to show signs of the attacking intent with which they started the game. England nearly capitalized on this pressure when Steven Gerrard’s free kick was agonizingly close to Wayne Rooney’s attempted header, when any kind of contact would likely have taken the ball beyond the reaches of Buffon.
An attempted overhead kick from Rooney almost gave England their fairytale ending, but the Manchester United striker could not keep his shot down, sending the game into extra time.
The first half of extra time from England was much more encouraging than much of their play in the opening 90 minutes; it still failed to yield a break in the deadlock for either side, setting up a very tense final 15 minutes.
The second half played out in similar fashion and brought the conclusion to the game that all England fans were dreading, the penalty shootout.
Opening penalties were slotted home by Balotelli and Gerrard respectively, only for England to then gain the advantage after Rooney scored, following a miss from Montolivo. England’s advantage was short lived however as Ashley Young’s missed penalty – after Pirlo’s successful spot kick – leveled the scores at 2-2. Another miss from England, this time from Ashley Cole, proved to be England’s final undoing. Alessandro Diamanti stepped up to convert and sent Italy through to face the Germans in the semi-finals.
Image Courtesy of Julian Finney