Italy needed penalties to win their quarter final of Euro 2012 against England. And so it was, in normal time and extra time, neither team managed to score a valid goal as offside goals don’t count. So the team that goes through to play Germany in the semi-final is Italy because they were more accurate with their penalties.
Prandelli’s men always looked the most likely to win. Even in the 90 minutes they were more decisive and had more belief that they could create chances. But we have said here before that there are many ways to get there in football and England called on their defence to keep the score at nil.
The game began with more play in both boxes than we had seen, with a shot from De Rossi hitting the post after three minutes and a chance for Johnson just two minutes later which brought Buffon in to action. Italy started the way their last game, 1-4-3-1-2 and England were their usual 1-4-4-2. With these two systems it was clear that the full backs were going to be very important for both teams in attack. Balzaretti and Abate got forward on the wings from start to finish, until Maggio did the same when he came on for Abate and for England, Johnson and Cole were the ones who could get forward, though in truth, they didn’t do it as much as the Italians. The light pressure the English strikers were putting on Pirlo, the Italian playmaker, meant that De Rossi could drop deep to support on the side were there was not much pressure.
As well as the systems, the Italians had a clear game plan. To look long behind the defence for their strikers, to open up play wide if they couldn’t create a chance and to shoot from distance if they couldn’t find a gap in the crowded English defence. Possession figures were 60-40% for the team in blue and very significant was the number of passes, 720 for Italy to 309 for England during the second half of extra time.
The attacking play of Hodgson’s team in the first half, apart from the chance we mentioned, was restricted to one shot from a rebound on 13 minutes, a cross from Johnson without any real threat, and a combination between Welbeck and Rooney on 32 minutes, none of which changed the scoreline. Their opponents were playing between lines with the numerical superiority they had centrally and when England were narrow, they used their full backs to get width especially on the left in the first half. One of their long balls behind the defence could have resulted in a goal if Balotelli been more clinical. In the end, the first half was dominated by Italy but with no end product.
The second half began with more determination from Italy based on the same game plan: shoot from distance when they had the chance. England noticed the pressure and changed things. Carroll and Walcott for Welbeck and Milner (60th minute). Hodgson was clearly gambling on direct play and the second ball, pace in the counter attack from Theo, as a means to surprise their opponent.
If England played on the ground, Rooney was coming to receive between the lines and if they played in the air to Carroll, he and the wide players looked to get the second ball to try to be a threat. This didn’t give the result they hoped for and so they then relied on set pieces.
Italy brought on Diamanti, Nocerino and later Maggio to keep using the ball and at the same time bring on fresh legs to kee up the tempo. Around the 80 minute mark England had had 6 shots and Italy 23. The whole England team were defending on the edge of the box but football can trick you and in the 92nd minute Pirlo lost possession almost gave Rooney the first goal of the night. He couldn’t manage it and normal time finished 0-0.
Extra time and penalties
England kept on defending with two banks of four on the edge of the box and Hodgson brought Henderson on to freshen up midfield. The strategy of both teams were pronounced, with long balls to Carroll and second balls for England and shots from the Italians. After half time in extra time, Maggio showed more energy getting in on the wing and to the goal line to get in crosses. But the scoreboard was not changing and both sides, just about drained, looked towards penalties. They were exciting, because first Montolivo missed for Prandelli’s team and then Ashley Young evened things up. As Ashley Cole had missed, everything rested on Diamanti. He scored and booked his team’s ticket to the semis to the disappointment of the English. We have the semi-final line-up, so keep an eye on our website. They are in chronological order, Portugal, Germany, Spain and now Italy.