The last quarter final match of the Euros between England and Italy was only one thing. Absolutely exhausting.
It was incredibly exhausting to watch, so I can’t even imagine what it was like to play. A lot of people thought this game would go into penalty kicks and while I really, really hoped it wouldn’t go that far, I had to admit – there was a feeling that’s exactly what would happen between these two teams.
The first half started off very exciting. Italy’s Daniele De Rossi had a laser shot toward goal within the opening minutes, but it bounced right off the wood work. Moments later, Glen Johnson would have a chance from a scramble in Italy’s box, but again, nothing. And that was about how exciting it got, kids. Italy pushed and pushed and pushed against the “parked bus” of the England defense. The ball just wouldn’t go into the back of the net.
England – for their part – weren’t exactly pretty in their play, but you could see they were playing for all they were worth. And they weren’t without their chances as well. But it was just very clear to anyone watching that Italy were playing better and the fact they couldn’t get on goal was more often their fault.
Don’t get me wrong, I was rooting for England! And I thought they did far better than what most were expecting. But when you look at stats from the game, you’ll have to wonder – what in the hell was up with Italy? They held 64 percent of the possession and out of 35 shots (35!), 20 of them were on goal. England only had nine shots. That speaks volumes.
Wasted chances, over and over again, came from Italy. England could not hold on to the ball even though their tournament lives were dependent on it. And when the whistle came at the end of the 90th minute, the game was deadlocked at 0-0.
In the second period of extra time, Antonio Nocerin had what fans and players for Italy thought was the winning goal in the 115th minute, but it was ruled off side and the game remained 0-0. England or Italy’s fate would be decided on penalty kicks.
Early on, it looked England might get their miracle. They had a 2-1 advantage on Italy, but when Ashley Young stepped up to the spot, he ringed it off the cross bar, allowing Italy to tie up. Nocerin would slam his in the back following for Italy and when Ashley Cole followed for England, legendary keeper Gianluigi Buffon would calmly save it. Alessandro Diamanti was the next penalty taker and his solid hit slipped past Joe Hart and Italy was on to the next round.
So, going off stats and play, the right team won. Italy were stronger on the field, stronger with their possession, and hell they had a ton of shots on goal. But I wouldn’t write off England just yet. Most fans and critics will say this is the same old dance for the Three Lions, but I don’t think that’s true.
The FA brought in a brand new manager – Roy Hodgson – and he did something in six months time that Fabio Capello could never do. He got the English to play like a team, not 11 super stars on the pitch who happened to be wearing the same kit. They played with some heart and while it wasn’t pretty (simple was the term Taylor Twellman used and I think it was accurate), it was effective for them. And helped them greatly.
For Italy, the challenge now becomes resting up. Not only did they play into the wee hours of the morning today, they have little time to rest up. Their next foes, Germany, will have two whole days more to rest up for the semi final match up. I think UEFA should be ashamed that this is happening because it’s hardly fair to Italy.
Some will say Italy will switch up their play against Germany and are already calling a Spain and Germany final, but I’m not that quick to make that assumption. Italy may not have been barreling through this tournament like the Germans, but they aren’t ones to be counted out. Just when you think you know what they’re going to do, they surprise you.
While Balotelli is … well unpredictable, he’s still a force to be reckoned with for a back line. And I don’t care who you are, you have to recognize the brilliance that Pirlo brings to the Italians. Just check out his penalty shot, which was absolutely cheeky.
In the end, England will go home and should hold their heads high for their effort. Italy will prepare for their next battle and I’m sure they will not play by the script some have already written. They will definitely make sure the Germans have to fight hard if they want to move on.
Image courtesy of sportinglife.com