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Penalty agony for England
England suffered penalty heartbreak at Euro 2012 after losing 4-2 on penalties to Italy after being outplayed in the quarter-final in Kiev.
Italy dominated for huge swathes of the contest, but were unable to make the breakthrough as England retreated further and further into their shell.
Penalties offered the Three Lions hope but, after Riccardo Montolivo fired wide, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole both failed from 12 yards to leave former West Ham forward Alessandro Diamanti as the man to step up and send Italy into a semi-final date with Germany.
Italy were almost in front inside the opening three minutes when Daniele de Rossi's deliberately sliced volley from 30 yards crashed back off the post with Joe Hart beaten.
England responded almost immediately as Glen Johnson found himself on the edge of the six-yard box, but his shovelled attempt produced a superb reflex stop from Gianluigi Buffon.
The enigmatic Mario Balotelli had numerous chances to put Italy ahead, but was denied by a block from John Terry and then alert defending from his Manchester City team-mate Joleon Lescott.
De Rossi had a golden opportunity to put the Azzurri in front three minutes after half-time, but snatched at his shot, while Balotelli was denied by club colleague Hart and then saw an ambitious overhead kick fly over.
England retreated more and more as the game wore on and were almost punished in the first period of extra-time when Italy substitute Diamanti saw his cross come back off the post.
The Azzurri finally had the ball in the net with five minutes left of extra-time, but substitute Antonio Nocerino was fractionally offside when he stooped to head home and England held out to force a shoot-out.
Before the drama, all those pre-match predictions of a tight, cagey affair had been blown to bits inside the opening five minutes.
Claudio Marchisio picked out De Rossi with a peach of a cut-back and he let fly with a spectacular first-time volley, which curved away from Hart's despairing dive, only to crash back off the post.
Starved of possession in those early stages, England eventually countered through Johnson.
The Liverpool defender continued his run after laying a pass off to Ashley Young and was picked out inside the box by James Milner. Had the chance fallen to a striker, England surely would have scored.
As it was, Johnson took vital seconds manoeuvring the ball into a position from which he could shoot, and when he did, Gianluigi Buffon stood firm to make an excellent one-handed save.
They were the most notable efforts of a surprisingly open start, during which Wayne Rooney sent a diving header over and Andrea Pirlo released Balotelli, only for John Terry to rescue the situation with a vital tackle.
No-one could help when Riccardo Montolivo's disguised pass looped over the England defence and dropped invitingly for Balotelli, whose volley went straight to Hart.
At the other end, Danny Welbeck's precise effort sailed over after he had run onto Rooney's return flick.
It was spellbinding stuff, with Italy having the edge in craft and guile, whilst also looking vulnerable when England attacked at pace.
Balotelli's notoriously fragile temperament resulted in him lashing out at a post after spurning another opportunity, which Pirlo and Antonio Cassano combined to provide.
He ended the half driving over from long-range, extending a contribution substantially more effective than Rooney, whose failure to pick out a team-mate with a cross under no pressure was symptomatic of a player struggling to find his form.
England were caught cold straight after the interval when Marchisio found De Rossi in the box, only for the midfielder to mis-kick a volley wide from barely four yards when he had the time to do much better.
It was the start of an onslaught that had England teetering on the brink as Pirlo took command in imperious fashion.
At 33, the midfielder now assumes the Paul Scholes-role for his country, dropping deep and dictating the tempo, and for a while, England were powerless to stop him.
Terry denied Balotelli at the far post with a thunderous clearing header, then Hart repelled De Rossi's long-range effort and also Balotelli's follow-up. Montolivo got to the loose ball first but his shot sailed over.
Hodgson had seen enough and after Balotelli's overhead kick had gone over, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott were introduced.
With Italy making changes as well, the game lost its shape, so, as had been imagined, extra-time was required.
After their defiant rearguard action, it would have been galling in the extreme for England's defences to be breached by a fluke.
Fortunately, what was intended as a cross by former West Ham man Diamanti clipped the far post after Hart reacted too late to the danger it was posing.
Nocerino thought he had won it six minutes from the end but his header was correctly ruled out for offside. It merely delayed the inevitable.
That England led after the first two rounds of penalties to give hope only made defeat all the more crushing as Diamanti delivered the final blow.
Date: 2012-06-25 10:39:58