England held Italy to a goalless draw but eventually crashed out in the quarter-finals on penalties ... again
Good evening. What do you mean you still believe? You never believed in the first place. You're only starting to believe now. Before the tournament started, expectations for Euro 2012 were so low most people would have been satisfied enough if England hadn't made a show of themselves in the group stages, exiting the first round in the most dignified manner possible. That would do. Arrive, lose, leave, hope the rest of the continent didn't even know we were there in the first place. At the very least it made a refreshing change from past tournaments when, especially during late-era Sven and early McClaren, the build-up was defined by jingoistic bombast, the analysis centred around the many reasons why England were going to conquer the world and how many English players would waltz into the Germany side; it was so one-eyed some people probably took to wondering whether 'Europe' was even a real country. But the the entitlement that turned so many people off England and made it so enjoyable when they lost has gone and in its place stands a new realism fostered by that safe pair of hands Roy Hodgson.
England were tipped to be out by now and yet here they are,
one of the top five sides in Europe winners of a tricky group, the reward for that a fascinating quarter-final against Italy. Not Spain. It could have been Spain and but for a late Jesus Navas goal against Croatia/Michel Platini's extra officials doing their job, England would have had the questionable honour of being bored to death 1-0 by the world champions. Instead they face Italy, a side that has not won a knock-out match at a major tournament since 2006. Admittedly that was the World Cup final, but still, the point stands: a mere mention of Italy might intimidate, but a glance at the teamsheet might not – not like a quick look at Spain's bench would. Saying that, the Hodgsonian way is not to underestimate anyone and downplay expectations and while this is not a vintage Italian side, they should still be seen as the favourites tonight.
For one thing, history is against England, who have never won a knock-out match away from home soil against what might be regarded as a major footballing nation. Italy, needless to say, fit that description, even if England have never played them in the latter stages of a major tournament. What's more, England have lost seven out of 10 quarter-finals – including their last three – while Italy have won eight out of 10, losing twice on penalties (against France at World Cup 98 and Spain at Euro 2008). Well, that's it then. No point playing now! England are going to have to win a game on penalties. Bye! Bye everyone! Forfeit!
Well, perhaps not, records there to be broken and all that. After all, until last night France had never lost to Spain in a tournament match and look how that one turned out (actually, does anyone know how it did turn out? I fell asleep after 63 minutes and have only just woken up from a tiki-taka-induced snooze). The past only has so much relevance: there comes a point when you have to look it up and down, shrug your shoulders like Larry David and say "Ehhh". I suppose what I'm getting at here is that England have to believe and other vague, non-specific schmaltzy stuff like that. That should do it, right?
Kick-off is at: 7.45pm BST.
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev.
The prize: A thrashing at the hands of Germany.
Fighting Talk with Andrea Pirlo: "They have been very fortunate in getting this far. Against France they were completely outplayed, then they struggled against Sweden and were extremely lucky to win against Ukraine." Now you listen here, 'Mr Pirlo' ... No, actually that's quite a fair assessment of England's showing so far, even if they might reasonably point out that they deserve to be in the quarter-finals. England's first three games have indeed been strange affairs. Never deviating from Hodgson's Two Banks Of Four, they have often been rigid, ponderous and incapable of keeping the ball for more than three seconds. Against Italy's midfield, that could turn out to be fatal and Pirlo is right, England have hardly been entirely convincing in any of their three games. On the face of it, this is a weak side that ostensibly has no business being in the latter stages of the Euros, but what they lack in individual class, they make up for togetherness as a solid team unit - even if their inability to keep the ball inevitably leads to the defence crumbling under incessant pressure.
It's difficult to work out what kind of style England play.
Is it tiki-taka? They can't be labelled a counter-attacking side, not when Germany demonstrate what it really means to play on the break. Maybe they're just the sort of side that soaks up pressure and then as soon as they get the ball, they kick it forward very quickly, presumably where the strikers are, and then hope for the best. A rudimentary tactic at best, but one that has brought a surprising amount of success so far. Even when England were being pummelled by Ukraine in the first half on Tuesday, they still created the best chance, missed by Wayne Rooney. With Rooney restored to the side, they do carry this vague threat. It's hard to describe precisely what it is but they do inexplicably seem to unnerve opposition defences.
"It seems whoever wins tonight has a distinct disadvantage as they play again in a few days," says Alex Aston. "Has any team gone on to win a tournament from the final group?" Spain all the way back in 2008, back when they were fun and not a pernicious threat to the very existence of football as we know it.
As for Italy, they've also taken a mildly strange route here. Surprisingly impressive in their opening game against Spain, they were dominant in the first half against Croatia, but then faded away, bringing to mind the famous Barry Davies line "The Italians are out because they will not learn". Having led 1-0 for much of the match, they ended up drawing 1-1 and then there were some nervy moments in the win over Ireland. Intrigue remains on how Cesare Prandelli will set them up tonight, whether he will revert to the 3-5-2 formation of the first two matches or stick to the 4-3-1-2 he used against Ireland.
It's likely to be the latter due to the injury suffered by Giorgio Chiellini, although that could leave them vulnerable in the wide positions to England – I suspect the 3-5-2 formation, with Christian Maggio on the right and AN Other on the left would be trickier for England to handle, but Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti performed well against Ireland. Italy are sure to dominate possession with Pirlo pulling the strings, but they have tired as games have progressed and if England can keep it tight, the longer it goes on, the more they'll fancy their chances. Ultimately, though, England must fear being outclassed.
And then there's Mario Balotelli. Two of them, if you believe James Milner. Lucky man, he knows two Balotellis, says Balotelli. But which one will turn up tonight? If it's the one that scored 17 goals for Manchester City last season, England – and particularly a wheezing John Terry – could be in big trouble, as his superb goal against Ireland demonstrated. Yet he even marred that with his celebration, Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci compelled to put his hand over the striker's mouth as he blasted hot air from it. Fresh from dissing made-up character Peter Pan, who knows what he's got in store for us tonight. It's either going to be a hat-trick or starting a 22-man brawl, isn't it.
Peter Pan could fly though. And he regularly took on pirates. We won't know how much of a man Balotelli really is until he's taken on a ship full of Somalian pirates. Over to you, Mario.
"Although neither a Brit or an Italian myself, I hardly consider myself neutral (having fallen in love with the Italy's elegant failure ever since Baggio skyed that penalty kick when I was 6)," says Yazan Badran. "I see a well-deserved shellacking for the English today. And a timely one for that. England (or English teams) doing well in competitions just seems to bring out the worst in my English friends (over-confidence, sense of entitlement, and eventually drunken disappointment with me having to drag them home). I personally prefer the, well-nurtured and cherished, self-deprecation and black sarcasm of the past 15 years, to that. I fear this is a pattern that'll keep happening for many years to come, and will only be reenforced if England, god-forbid, ever win a tournament with pseudo-teams like this one. One can't help wonder though, wouldn't it be easier just to admit that English football needs an institutional revolution, and get on with it?"
You think they need to get it in the mixer more, right?
Bad omen: on this day in 2004, England were beaten on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004 by Portugal. Who will be the Darius Vassell tonight? Ashley Young?
Good omen: "Has anyone mentioned that fulham beat a Ukrainian team, then an Italian, then a Germany team (or 2) before losing in the final to a technically superior Spanish team in our Europa league run under Roy?" says Will Jeffers. "Could exactly the same thing happen again with England? It's all set in place."
A classic to get you in the mood: John Barnes, everyone!
And then one night in Rome...
"Here's a good one for you, Steinberg," says Marek Miernik enigmatically. "Hodgson was appointed with an eye to the future apparently. Then he appointed Neville as his number two - does this cast him as Jurgen, with Gary as Jogi Low, following the German model/transition of manager? Can we expect the G-Nev in tightly stylish clobber reprising his moustache come the next Euros?" Could Neville ever carry off metrosexual Euro-chic?
"I'm glad you mentioned with a hint at remorse the fanfare and considerable over-optimism of the Sven-era England, the same team of such agonizingly boring displays (Becks-crosses-to-Crouch) that made us neutrals cheer for...ehr Trinidad & Tobago and Ecuador in 2006 World Cup," says Horacio Morales. "Having said that, living in the UK I witnessed first hand first the fatalism of a BBC Euro 2008 and later (certainly not learning the lesson) the incredible supra optimism before South Africa, with England trailing behind only to Spain and Germany as bookies' favorites (clearly remember The Telegraph's "expect a semi-finals, at least"), it is such a fantastic thing to finally being able to have the moral advantage of supporting the underdog. I m glad the players accepted the unfancy expectations and are starting to deliver. Now, of course, let's see if they can behave like worthy champions against a few fellas with World Cup medal. One last thing, if you happen to win, please encourage the citizens not to jump into a frenzy of over-confidence. England 2-1."
I thought England would get to the semi-finals of the last World Cup. On paper they had a very easy route there. They should have won their group and then would have played Ghana, not Germany, in the second round and Uruguay in the quarters. Given the way they played in the qualifiers, it wasn't ridiculous to expect them to manage that. Then the football started and dearie me.
Team news: England are unchanged from the win over Ukraine. Roy Hodgson must have been slightly tempted to unleash Andy Carroll, who must be feral by now, to test out Italy in the air. Instead it's Danny Welbeck up front and his pace could trouble the pace-averse Barzagli and Bonucci. Italy make one change: in comes Mario Balotelli for Antonio Di Natale and Prandelli does stick to the 4-3-1-2 diamond formation instead of switching to a 3-5-2.
Eleven bulldogs lined up in Two Banks of Four: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner, Parker, Gerrard, Young; Rooney, Welbeck. Subs: Green, Kelly, Walcott, Henderson, Carroll, Baines, Jones, Jagielka, Downing, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Defoe, Butland.
Mario Balotelli and 10 Ernie Wises: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti; Marchisio, De Rossi, Pirlo, Montolivo; Balotelli, Cassano. Subs: Sirigu, Maggio, Chiellini, Ogbonna, Thiago Motta, Di Natale, Giaccherini, Borini, Giovinco, Diamanti, Nocerino, De Sanctis.
Designated scapegoat for when it all goes wrong: Pedro Proenca (Portugal).
"Gary Lineker tweeted earlier that every team to have qualified for the Euros who also happened to be holding the Olympics the same year has won it - West Germany '72 and Greece '04," says Brad McMillan. "There you have it, the Oracle has spoken."
"I think it comes down to the fact that England is astonishing in its consistent "pretty good"-ness," says Philip Sandifer. "At every position, with remarkable uniformity, they are… pretty good. Their veterans are aging, their youth are developing, their stalwart squad players are… stalwart. There's nobody you can point to as a clear weak spot, and nobody you can point to as a huge danger. Even Rooney - their best player - is out of form and merely… pretty good. They're unnerving because other than the overwhelming favorites for the tournament - Germany and Spain - there's no team that you can say losing to England would be a shock result for. But equally, they're not strong favorites in any match. So you can't go into a game against them feeling hugely confident, nor can you go in feeling like scrappy underdogs. They're like an international version of Everton - over the course of things they're going to get some good results against great teams and some terrible results against lousy teams. Because they're just… pretty good."
"Having just watched the Eh John Barnes Rap, hands up who wouldn't rather see the 1990 team in all their pomp rocking up tonight, rather than the rather less exciting prospect of Milner and Co," says John Tumbridge. "Even Waddle seemed to want to fight his way past the opposition."
"Arrrgghh I just had a horrible premonition of Balotelli making this match his Maradona '86 moment and crushing us single-handledly because he feels like it," says Brett Turner. "Oh dear, I feel 12 years old again. In fact I think that's why I'm such an emotional wreck when I watch England in any game that involves the words "knock-out". Scarred for life at an impressionable age."
"I would like to disagree with Alex Aston," says Michael Hunt. "I would say that whoever loses today has the bigger disadvantage on balance."
Recent history favours Italy. The two sides haven't met since a friendly at Elland Road in 2002, Italy winning 2-1 with a Vincenzo Montella double after a spate of substitutions. Before then, a Gennaro Gattuso goal sealed a 1-0 win for Italy in Peter Taylor's only game as England manager in November 2000. The sides also met three times in the space of eight months in 1997. Italy won the first encounter, a World Cup qualifier notable for Matt Le Tissier starting, 1-0 thanks to a Gianfranco Zola first-half goal. England then beat Italy 2-0 in Le Tournoi in the summer – WE WON LE TOURNOI! FIFTEEN YEARS OF HURT! HAVE THAT GERMANY! – with goals from Ian Wright and Paul Scholes. And then most famously a performance of rare tactical astuteness earned England a 0-0 draw in Rome and the point they needed to qualify for the World Cup at Italy's expense. If only Glenn Hoddle wasn't, y'know, Glenn Hoddle. He could have been a very good manager.
Alan Hansen has just said that Liverpool was Mr Roy's first big job. I must be imagining the two spells at Inter.
It's a minute-by-minute. It's Ryan Dunne. "Like many a Scotsman (albeit not like,admittedly, your average stereotypical Glorious Glasgow Rangers fan) I'm rooting for Italy tonight. In the last analysis, doesn't Ballotelli's point to Noel Gallagher that an Englishman can't tell an Italian about football (4 world cups to 1, Euro glory to not so much) also not kind of apply to the respective national teams? Hell, catenaccio probably even wasn't *that* boring, and all the corruption hijinks are entertaining, in a back-with-the-borgias sort of way."
The penalty debate. "Sooner or later Mario Balotelli has to miss a penalty because, like Eric Cantona, his cucumber-cool will lead to him to doing something like overconfidently chipping a Panenka into the hands of a goalkeeper smart enough to stand his ground," says Justin Kavanagh. "Could facing England be his moment of ego-bursting hubris? Could his City teammate Joe Hart be the keeper to call his bluff?" Rob Smyth reckons Balotelli is the best penalty taker in the world. England actually have a pretty decent set. I wonder if Leighton Baines will be thrown on due to his record late in extra time.
Finn Curry's angry. "Did Shearer just say Balotelli hasn't achieved anything in his career yet?! Hasn't he got 3 Scudettos and 1 Premier League Title by the age of 21? And a Champs League too. Think Alan. Think before you speak." And don't interrupt Lee Dixon.
The teams are out. Here come the anthems. Italy's first- sitting to my left, James Richardson asks to hold my hand. No hiding where his loyalties lie. The camera lingers on Balotelli, who looks like he's going to burst into a fit of giggles. Probably thinking about the whoopee cushion he's hiding. England's is lustily sung and the teams shake hands. Balotelli and Hart share a hug. Hart now has a sign saying 'Kick me!'on his back.
Countdown Man does his Countdown and we are off. Italy, attacking from right to left in their blue kits, kick off. England are all in white. Balotelli tries to score with a volley from 40 yards out. No, Mario. "Finn Curry's made the basic beginner's mistake of listening to what Alan Shearer says," says Phil Sawyer.
2 min: A moment of indecision in the England defence as Terry tries to leave a loose ball for Hart to collect. The goalkeeper's not out quickly enough though and with Balotelli sniffing around, Terry has to clear rather awkwardly. It's a strong start from Italy; Balzaretti gets clear down the left but his teasing cross evades everyone in the middle. England have barely had a kick yet.
3 min: It's been all Italy so far, England chasing shadows, and they've gone so close to opening the scoring with what would have been a magnificent goal from Daniele De Rossi. From the right, Abate drilled a ball away from the area to De Rossi, 25 yards out. Instead of taking it down, he let the ball drift across his body and then cut across a wonderful volley with his left boot that spun away from Joe Hart and against the face of the left post. What marvellous technique. Hart had no chance but the woodwork saved him. England have barely had a kick.
5 min: After five minutes of incessant Italian pressure, England look to hit back and almost take the lead through Glen Johnson! This was an excellent move, Young's clever pass releasing Milner on the right. He fizzed a low cross into the middle which was inadvertently deflected to Johnson, the right-back somehow finding himself clear eight yards from goal. The ball slightly got stuck under his feet but he managed to dig it out and then scooped an instinctive shot straight at Buffon. The Italian goalkeeper parried it up into the air and then snaffled it at the second attempt. That's better.
8 min: It had been a very rocky start from England, but that chance for Johnson has settled them down a tad. From the right, Gerrard tries to curve a cross into the middle for Welbeck, but it's cleared. "Woah, AC Jimbo hangs out at the Guardian sportsdesk with the regular hacks?!" says Ryan Dunne. "Surely I can't be the only pod-listener who assumed he swooped (perhaps in a gold helicopter?) in and out, A-list glamour-model style." He's eating an apple, Ronay-style.
10 min: An England move is frittered away and instantly Italy break, but Cassano's ball through to Balotelli is overhit. "I'd give my left foot for an England win....if it hadn't been amputated 3 1/2 weeks ago," says Sean Kilgannon. "Still, it's the thought that counts. Come on you bulldogs!" Amputated?!
11 min: England are threatening. An indolent Balotelli loses possession deep in his own half, and Rooney is sprung clear down the left. He hits a low cross towards the near post for Welbeck, but Bonucci is on hand to divert it behind, ensuring there are no backheel heroics from the England striker this time. The corner from the left is headed clear.
12 min: England haven't looked this confident all tournament and are having a very promising spell here indeed. Young cuts in from the left and curls a right-footed cross into the area. Under no pressure at all, Buffon elects to punch clear for reasons best known to himself. It only goes as far as Parker but his follow-up volley from 30 yards out is well wide. "More excitement so far tonight than the entire game last night," says Guy Hornsby. "Not sure the nerves will take ninety minutes of this though...." The full 120, you mean.
14 min: It's all England. A goal is on the cards here. I know. From the right, Johnson emulates Gerrard with a delicious cross towards Rooney. He flings himself at it with Abate in close attendance but the ball flies over the bar. It looked like Abate got his boot to the ball but a goal-kick is given. That looked like an iffy - albeit tight - call.
16 min: Italy are all over the place at the moment. They can't live with the pace and energy of England; Pirlo can't get into the game at all. Arise Sir Roy!
17 min: On the right touchline, Balotelli turns and spins away from Lescott, who tugs him back, conceding a free-kick. A chance, then, for Pirlo to influence proceedings but his delivery is woefully overhit. Balzaretti picks up possession on the left but his cross drifts over.
18 min: Every time I hear Balzaretti's name, I think of this scene in Inglorious Basterds.
19 min: "Am I the only one to think that ten minutes of this match are better that 180 minutes of Spanish tiki taka?" says Patrizio Ruffinoni. One milisecond of Geordie Shore would be better than tiki-taka in its current state.
21 min: Pirlo drops a corner from the left towards the near post; Welbeck heads it away pretty much right by the post, although Bonucci wasn't too far away from getting his head to it.
22 min: Cassano has a pop from 25 yards out. It goes even higher than one of Karim Benzema's specials last night. England are doing well to restrict Italy to long-range efforts. Although we wouldn't be saying that if De Rossi's early pearler had gone in.
24 min: "Aye, gone but not forgotten," says Sean Kilgannon. "I do have a leg to stand on, but I've got nothing against it." Share with the class: why was your foot amputated?
25 min: England are just struggling to keep hold of the ball at the moment, allowing Italy to exert more pressure. On the left, Cassano tries to slip a pass through to Balotelli but it's a pass even Xavi would have struggled to pull off. Moments later, an exquisite long pass from Pirlo towards Balotelli from the back catches the England offside trap in a right state. He plucks it out of the sky but takes to long to shoot, and Terry manages to get back and brilliantly block his attempted chip over the exposed Hart. Fine defending in the end, but a horrible mess to begin with.
27 min: "From what my TV sounds like the stadium atmosphere is really buzzing with loads of noise from both sides, while last night sounded like it was played in a library or museum or other appropriately academic environment," says Robin Hazlehurst. "Clear proof of relative excitement levels of the matches." Has Xabi Alonso been ostracised fro scoring that penalty instead of passing it yet? As for the fans, apparently the Ukranian fans are chanting for Italy because the England fans refused to join in with a Mexican Wave.
29 min: There had been a slight suggestion that Terry had blocked that Balotelli shot with his arms - well, it is John Terry, we'd expect nothing less - but replays showed it was his chest.
30 min: Italy are seeing all of the ball now, the old English failings in possession coming back to haunt them.
32 min: Balotelli breaks in behind the England defence again, the offside trap all over the shop again. He was picked out superbly by Montolivo, this time Terry caught sleeping, but the ball sat up unkindly for him and instead of taking it on, he tried an acrobatic volley from the edge of the area, the ball dribbling straight at Hart. From there England attack, Parker releasing Young down the left. He finds Welbeck, who charges at the Italy defence, before poking a pass through to Rooney, who befuddles the Italian defence with a cracking backheel back into Welbeck's path. He has a clear sight of goal, just outside the area but his attempt to curl the ball into the top-right corner is dreadfully executed.
33 min: Cassano wriggles clear of his marker and drags a low shot wide of the near post from the left. He's had some delightful moments here and there, but England will be grateful his decision-making has been poor.
34 min: James Milner's second touch: a tackle.
36 min: Possession stats are in and as expected
England have had 73% of it Italy have had 60% of it and have completed twice as many passes as England. I don't think England have had more possession than their opposition in any game under Hodgson yet. The ball is not to be trusted. The ball is evil. In TBOF we trust.
37 min: Rooney has the face on after being brought down by a challenge from behind by De Rossi, who did magnificently to pick his pocket as the striker threatened to run amok. The referee rules it wasn't a foul, prompting much arm-flinging from Rooney.
38 min: This time Cassano does get a shot on target. His effort from 25 yards out swerves viciously in the air and Hart does well to read its flight, because for a horrible moment it appeared he had put his weight on the wrong foot. He parries it clear and then collects the rebound. "I dreamt that this match went to penalties," says Rodney Harper. "None of the english volunteered so Gary Neville had to step up in a black suit and his tie flapping in his face in the run-up before he struck it with power into the corner. I can't remember the result, though, but the spectacle of the Neviller sliding on his knees was pretty special."
39 min: Italy continue to look for the pass over the top to Balotelli, largely because he keeps escaping his markers with clever runs and also because there's no pressure on the source. At some point, England are going to be punished. He nearly got on the end of one here, but was muscled out of it by Terry.
41 min: Awesome defending from Joleon Lescott prevents a certain goal for Mario Balotelli. Italy must have thought this would be the breakthrough. Given the freedom of the park, Pirlo clipped a gorgeous ball over the dawdling Ashley Cole, who had failed to notice Cassano's run behind him. Cassano did the right thing, nodding the ball down into the six-yard box where Balotelli was waiting right in front of goal. With Balotelli poised to blast Italy into the lead, Lescott came out of nowhere to knock the ball over the top of his own bar. Superb defending, not least because that so easily could have been an own goal. Balotelli can't believe it.
42 min: Rooney is having a mixed game. Freed on the left side of the area by Young, he clips a useless cross into the middle with two team-mates waiting nearby. Italy stream up the other end and Balotelli spanks one just over from long range.
Half time: England 0-0 Italy. England will be relieved to hear the half-time whistle blow, because they were hanging on at the end of an engrossing half. They started poorly, came back into it and then faded away. On the balance of play and chances, they are fortunate not to be behind. They may need to locate a bus.
Half time emails.
"The man said my foot was dead....'cause of the lion attack?" says Sean Kilgannon. "The Amazonian tribal poison dart? Matterhorn frostbite? Oh no, it was the 34 years of fags that did it. Still, I now lean even further to the left, unlike most people as they age."
"Two reasons for England not to be scared of Spain: England never have the ball at the best of times so will not be phased by Spain's possession stats and will, uniquely, be able to play their traditional game; and they restrict their opponents to shots from distance which the Spanish don't do on principle," says Robin Hazlehurst. "An academic argument of course because the Germans certainly will score from distance even if Italy don't, but it proves that England would certainly win the final and therefore are the best team in Europe. Roar. Er, I think..."
"Pippo Inzaghi," says Ticoperu, "At 40+ yrs old would've scored by now."
"I feel I should step in to defend Spain and their style of play, seeing as nobody else is going to," says Phil Wainwright. "Is there not an argument to suggest that opposition teams are now parking the bus so deep against Spain/Barca that they have no choice but to play the way they do? When it sashayed into consciousness, tiki taka was being played against more open teams playing higher up the pitch and being picked off by Xavi, Alonso et al, making for more pleasurable viewing. Now it is being played against a bank of six, with a bank of three or four immediately in front, on the 18 yard line and Spain are still managing to win. Not in the most enthralling of circumstances, but that can equally be attributed to the defending team, surely??" No, it's gone too far. It's the height of indulgence.
"Why has Buffon got those blue stripes behind his ears?" says Sheena Mansell. I have no idea.
"We're just too slow in moving the ball around," says Keith Sanderson. "It's far too easy for the Italians to close us down. I've lost count how many times our goal-kicks have gone straight to an Italian - why, oh why can't English players learn to have a bit of confidence on the ball and play it out from the back? Frustrating to watch. Rooney, much less than world-class, imo too. Just hope we can nick one and then hold on."
"Re: so many MBM readers finding yesterday's game boring: there may not be a right way to play football, but there definitely is a wrong way," says David Rafferty. "The good news is that England don't play the wrong way. They play the Max Power way."
46 min: England get us going again and start on the front foot. Clearly Mr Roy was more Churchill than Iain Duncan Smith. AM I RIGHT, GARETH? They had two half-chances here: first Rooney was unable to get a shot away in the area, then Milner's burst and cross was haphazardly hacked clear by Abate. "The blue tape is Kinesio tape, used for muscle pain, strain etc," says Niamh Ni Chonaill. Thanks.
48 min: What a miss from Daniele De Rossi! How on earth are Italy not ahead? A corner from the left was punched away by Hart but optimistically headed back into the area by an Italian player. It should have been dealt with without any fuss whatsoever, but the England defence was dozing and it dropped to De Rossi, who turned and Kerzhakoved a volley wide from six yards out! That might even have come off his shin. What an escape. Earth to England!
50 min: Scott Parker is only capable of running in a straight line. It is captivating to watch. Even if he was heading for the corner flag with his team 1-0 down in the 94th minute, he would not be able to change course.
52 min: How many are Italy going to miss? Marchisio smashes a shot goalwards from 30 yards out that Hart can only beat back into the area. Balotelli picks up the rebound, swivels and hits a volley that draws a fine reaction save from Hart with his knees. The ball pings away into the six-yard box and Montolivo bursts on to the scene and prods the rebound over the bar on the volley! England's goal is living a charmed life here. Italy have only scored one goal from open play in this tournament, you know.
55 min: England have the ball in a promising position on the right. Milner, Gerrard and Rooney take it in turns to squander possession in some style. "England = Greece with shorter last names?" says Tracy Mohr.
56 min: Pirlo coaxes a ball inside Cole to Abate, but the England defender recovers well to slide in and concede the corner, which Lescott heads clear.
57 min: England have Italy right where they want them.
58 min: A respite for England, with Abate and Young both down after a clash of heads. Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott are getting ready to come on for England.
59 min: Is it cowardly to pray for penalties?
59 min: If England's gameplan was centred around Pirlo tiring, they may need to come up with a new one. He is running the show now. "It's said that an infinite number of monkeys, left to type for an infinite amount of time, will eventually produce The Complete Works of Shakespeare," says Lee Rodwell. "Improbable as it sounds, is it therefore possible that an infinite number of James Milners, given an infinite amount of time to play football in, could eventually pick out a team-mate with a cross into the box? Seems unlikely."
60 min: This would have been special from Balotelli. He takes a high cross down on his chest and then produces a overhead kick that flies just over the bar. Neither Terry nor Lescott could get near him there. He's going to score eventually.
61 min: England respond by bringing on Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott for Danny Welbeck and James Milner. GET IT IN THE MIXER!
62 min: Cassano is caught offside down the right-hand channel. Why is this significant? Because it's the first time at Euro 2012 any player has been caught offside against England. Then again, it's hard to catch anyone offside when your defence doesn't edge further than the six-yard box.
63 min: Pirlo, growing in influence, picks out De Rossi's unchallenged run into the left side of England's area with a deep cross. De Rossi balloons a volley into orbit. Theo Walcott let him go there.
65 min: England turn up up front for the first time in an age. Walcott sends in a cross from the right where Carroll makes a nuisance of himself, the ball eventually breaking loose to Young, around 15 yards out. His follow-up effort is deflected and just squirms past the left post. Carroll gives away a free-kick from the resulting corner. Well done, Andy. "Extremely entertaining game to watch for the neutral and Joe Hart is such a brilliant goalkeeper!" says Leif Ove Lindgren. "Now that Walcott has replaced Ron Perlman England might actually win."
68 min: Joe Hart has had to make more saves than any other goalkeeper at Euro 2012. You can be sure he'll extend that lead tonight. Meanwhile all Carroll is doing is giving away free-kicks, the big doofus. "Notice how the trumpet 'player' keeps confusing major and minor keys?" says Radbert Grimmig. "Only just know he intoned 'Seven nation army' in major, now he's on with the fan chant in minor when it *should* be major. Someone rip his lungs out!"
70 min: It's a masterclass in possession from Pirlo tonight. What a sublime footballer. That is all.
71 min: England have made giving the ball away an art form. There's a real lack of quality on show here. A strong run from Rooney leads to him finding Walcott on the right side of the area. He's too indecisive, and has to turn back at find Parker, who in turn kindly gives Italy a goal-kick.
72 min: Steven Gerrard is down with what looks like cramp. Wasn't Pirlo meant to be the one who would tire? Jordan, this is your moment. "Is there an opposite of "Tiki Taka" where you lose the ball quickly and then don't fight to win it back quickly, because England sure as hell are playing it..." says Sheridan Hitchens.
75 min: Beep! Beep! Beep! Here comes the England bus, reversing into position...
77 min: Carroll wins England a free-kick 40 yards from goal, just to the left. At last a chance to relieve the pressure and give the Italians something to think about. Gerrard comes across to take it and sends in a delicious delivery that Rooney is oh so close to glancing goalwards. In the end, he makes no contact with the ball – more hair needed – and Buffon gathers.
78 min: Antonio Cassano's night is over. He's replaced by West Ham legend Alessandro Diamanti. Alessandro Diamanti is playing for Italy.
80 min: A big call from Cesare Prandelli: Antonio Nocerino is on for Daniele De Rossi. Like for like, or beard for beard. "The opposite of tiki-taka," says Aidan O'Donnell. "Pretty-crap-a??"
81 min: Diamanti's first contribution is to turn adroitly and hammer a low drive from 25 yards out towards the bottom-right corner. Hart saves competently.
82 min: Barzagli is booked for a robust challenge on Ashley Young. He won the ball but he led with his studs and slightly went over the top of the ball. Not in the current climate. England have a free-kick in a similar position to the one a few minutes ago.
83 min: Gerrard's inswinger is headed away by Barzagli. It falls to Parker on the right side of the area. His shot is charged down by Balzarreti, whose shoulder Parker then accidentally stamps on. Nothing sinister about it, but he stays down, so the referee quite rightly stops play so he can receive treatment, much to Mark Lawrenson's displeasure. He really is a moaning windbag. A risible disgrace throughout the tournament.
86 min: Italy have stared the Two Banks of Four in the eye and they have blinked. There is no way through. "Opposite of Tiki Taka: Milni Parka?" offers Rodney Parker.
87 min: Carroll has a shot charged down on the edge of the area. The ball comes back to Parker, who has Walcott clear on the right side of the penalty box. Goal-kick to Italy. Full marks to England for effort, but they are desperately limited. If they get through, they will be thumped by Germany.
88 min: "We were also awful in the Euro 96 quarter-final against Spain, pens, on to the semi," says Chris Monks. "That's all I've got."
89 min: Brilliant defending from Glen Johnson stops Nocerino from winning it for Italy. It was more magic from Pirlo that led to the chance, the best player on the pitch, spotting Nocerino's dart from left to right. He takes it down with his left and strikes it with his right, but Johnson tracked him all the way, sticks out a boot and deflects it over. Hart might well have been beaten there.
90 min+1: There will be three minutes of stoppage time. Ignazio Abate, feeling a hamstring, is replaced by the excellent Christian Maggio.
90 min+3: So close to daylight robbery! Young finds Cole on the overlap down the left. He hangs a cross up to the far post, Carroll heads it back into the six-yard box and Rooney's improvised overhead kick soars well over the bar.
Full time: Chelsea 0-0 Italy. Extra time it is then. Somehow England have held on. They must be knackered.
"Sven defended the long ball game by saying 'No player is faster than the ball.'," says Matt Dony. "He was wrong. Walcott consistently outruns the ball while dribbling." He'd be so good if he remembered to take the ball with him.
The pundits are focusing on a few penalty shouts for England when Terry had his shirt pulled in the area. Mike Dean would have given them, before striking this ridiculous Night Fever pose.
ET 1 min: How are your fingernails? Gone? Good. England start the first period of extra time, attacking from left to right. They keep the ball for 17 seconds. "Pirlo, who you have (not too unreasonably) been fawning over, was the one responsible for England's late opportunity after he tried to blast a shot from distance that didn't travel more than two feet before hitting his defender," says Jim Rogers. "Odds on Walcott scoring after the 100th minute?" This is, in theory, his sort of game.
ET 3 min: Nocerino whumps one over from long range. Meanwhile, groans across the country as the camera pans to the England bench, where we see that Jordan Henderson is coming on shortly.
ET 4 min: Maggio will miss the semi-final if Italy get through after being booked. His offence was going near Ashley Young. England make their change, Henderson on for the exhausted Parker. They have now used all three substitutions.
ET 5 min: Gerrard hurls the free-kick into the area. It leads to a moment of panic in the Italy area - except Lescott was flagged offside, so it was all irrelevant, so I'll give my fingers a quick rest.
ET 6 min: The England defence collapses again after another pass over the top. Again Balotelli is onside and clean through on goal but he can't quite reach the pass. "I take it all back - Lawro's reaction to Jordan Henderson coming on has melted my heart," says Adrian Miller.
ET 8 min: Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney have been appalling, England's worst players by some distance. Rooney is yet to score in the knock-out stages of a major tournament.
ET 9 min: Balotelli has a dig from distance but it's deflected. Catching practice for Hart.
ET 10 min: Another shot from Balotelli from the edge of the area. This time it's straight at Hart. "There are four Liverpool players on the pitch in white," says Chris Mitchell. "I'm not sure this can be a good thing."
ET 11 min: Italy hit the post for the second time! This would have been a dismal goal to concede. From the right, Diamanti dinked a cross into the area towards no one in particular but it fell into the sort of area that causes so many problems between defenders and goalkeepers. Hart expected a touch from someone in front of him and when it didn't come, he dived too late, the ball spinning away from him and clipping the outside of the left post. Yet another heart in mouth moment. Yet another escape. That seemed to happen in slow motion.
ET 13 min: "This match has now acquired a the characteristics of a pyrrhic victory, hasn't it?" says Saurav Samaddar. "Surely whichever team goes through after 120 minutes doesn't stand a chance against Germany who have had two extra days of rest to boot. Not to mention the luxury of having been able to rotate their players in their QF as well."
ET 15 min: The half ends with a Sweden-style surge into the area from Walcott, but his chip to the far post towards Carroll has too much on it. Oh Theo.
Half time in extra time: England 0-0 Italy. I hope you're all prepared for the defeat on penalties. "I believe in TBOF," chants Phil Sawyer. "I Believe in TBOF. I believe in TBOF. I believe in TBOF. If I say it enough it might become true."
ET 16 min: A quick rub-down and we're off again. This would be the first 0-0 draw at Euro 2012. The last time there were no 0-0 draws was Euro 88. "England are really putting on a masterclass in that whole get rid of the ball after 0.9 seconds thing, aren't they?" says Robert Johnson. "I hope Jogi Löw is watching."
ET 17 min: Maggio scampers in behind Young and sends a cross into the area. Lescott slips but Terry is on hand to clear. "Why do commentators/pundits still believe that Rooney is a world class player?" says Sam Rogers. "He is distinctly average in tournaments. Defoe would at least try and shoot."
ET 18 min: On the right corner of the England area, Diamanti twists, turns and curls a shot high into the Kiev sky. That brings back a few memories.
ET 19 min: 720 passes to 309 passes completed. 63% possession to 37%. You don't need me to tell you who the figures favour.
ET 20 min: England are now defending from their own six-yard line. Carroll is proving quite useful in that regard; he's winning everything in the air.
ET 21 min: After Marchisio wins a fairly soft free-kick off poor old Andy Carroll, Pirlo runs over it and Balotelli thumps a very strange effort over the bar. What did the ball ever do to you, Mario?
ET 23 min: Another chance goes begging for Italy. Balzaretti cuts a cross back to Diamanti, but he cracks one well wide with Gerrard exerting pressure on him. For those of you wondering what TBOF stands for: Two Banks Of Four, Mr Roy's trademark style.
ET 24 min: GOAL! NO! OFFSIDE! Balotelli finds Diamanti on the right side of the area. He diddles his way past Cole and then sends a peach of a cross into the six-yard box where Nocerino stoops to head into the roof of the net from close range - but England are relieved to see the flag up for offside! Oh me, oh my. Someone very clever is going to have to explain how Italy aren't winning this.
ET 27 min: So who are England's penalty-takers? Rooney, Young, Gerrard, Cole ... John Terry.
ET 29 min: The jig is almost up for Italy now. Montolivo drags a poor shot wide from long range. There's an anguished look on his face. Italy must fear the worst here. They've had 36 shots on goal and it's still 0-0.
Peep! Peep! Peep! England 0-0 Italy. It's England, it's a quarter-final, it's penalties. So what's new?
This has been absolutely ridiculous. England have had one shot on target, Glen Johnson's effort in the fifth minute. Italy have had a goal disallowed, two shots off the post, countless chances and all the play. Somehow England have dragged the match, kicking and screaming, to penalties. Absurd. That was such an inept performance in so many ways.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Joe Hart take one. He's not lacking in confidence. "Johnson will take one," says Patrick Crumlish. "Also I hate it when commentators describe it as 'flip of a coin' or 'just down to luck' when it reaches penalties. No, it's not. You have to practice penalties and know your opponents techniques. Luck is the last thing to do with it."
We've had the toss and Italy will go first. It's Balotelli v Hart. Manchester City team-mates. They're eyeballing each other, trying to psych each other out.
PENALTIES: England 0-1 Italy* (Balotelli). A short run-up, a stutter and a finish into the bottom-left corner. Nerveless.
PENALTIES: England* 1-1 Italy (Gerrard). England's captain steps up and goes the same way as Balotelli, even though Buffon went the right way.
PENALTIES: England 1-1* Italy An atrocious penalty from Montolivo! He tries to emulate Balotelli and Gerrard but puts it so far wide!
PENALTIES: England 2-1 Italy* (Rooney) Rooney thumps it into the bottom-left corner, Buffon sent the wrong way. Advantage England!
PENALTIES: England 2-2 Italy* (Pirlo) How are your nerves? With Italy desperately needing Pirlo to score, he Panenkas it down the middle! Outrageous.
PENALTIES: England* 2-2 Italy There goes the advantage, Ashley Young smashing it against the bar! I was telling anyone who'd listen that he'd miss.
PENALTIES: England 2-3 Italy* (Nocerino) Nocerino scores and the pressure is all on England now.
PENALTIES: England* 2-3 Italy A dreadful penalty from Ashley Cole! He hits it tamely towards the bottom-right corner and Buffon easily saves! If Diamanti scores, England are out.
ITALY WIN 4-2 ON PENALTIES! ENGLAND ARE OUT! Alessandro Diamanti coolly sends Hart the wrong way and strokes the ball into the bottom-left corner, Hart going the wrong way. England have lost on penalties again. Same old.
Outplayed, outclassed, out-thought and out. In the end, justice has been done. England deserved nothing more after a performance that could, if we were being generous, be described as battling and, if we were being harsh, be described as inept. Apart from a first-half flurry, they failed to keep the ball, were devoid of ideas and were indebted to the woodwork, the linesman's offside flag, luck and some awful Italian finishing. Italy thoroughly dominated and while the focus will be on the two Ashleys for their penalty misses, that would mask the sad truth: England simply weren't very good. Still, at least they don't have to play Germany. Thanks for reading. Good night.