Ped's Euro Musings (5) Italy 0-0 England
Once again are on their way home, eliminated once again by their inability to take penalty kicks and score them.
Italy march on to the semi-finals and a date with the impressive Germans.
Roy Hodgson went with the starting eleven that got England there, but with a plan designed to commence higher up the field.
The early stages suggested that it might work, except for the ineptitude of the Stretford front three who looked as mobile as the Pontypool front row from the days of Max Boyce humour.
A good first half chances fell to Welbeck who once again showed the gulf in class needed to play at this level. As in previous matches his best work was generally in defending set piece situations.
Chances in abundance fell to Balotelli who today was showing his good side but couldn't get on the scoresheet largely due to the close attention of City team-mate Lescott, shots saved by City team-mate Hart and terrific blocking by Terry.
The warnings were there early on from Balotelli. Clearly intent on keeping his moodiness in check, he set off on a crusade to beat Joe Hart. His only success was to come with one of irrepressible penalties in the shoot-out which decided the outcome.
In the early stages it looked as though England could live with Italy. The reality was that once Pirlo found his range he dominated the midfield almost single-handedly and in return we had ....Parker.
At the back, once again England looked fairly robust. Johnson probably had his best game both in blocking off Italian attacks and roving forward at times ahead of Milner.
Terry got in his blocks including those to prevent Balotelli cashing-in time and again.
Lescott was superb, dealing with Balotelli without once looking like giving him a penalty chance in open play and Cole was also in good form although today unable to get forward as much as usual.
It was in midfield where the game was controlled.
Milner forced once again to play Shepherd to Johnson, Ashley Young simply shocking playing at a level that is clearly too great for him at this stage of his development, Parker gave the ball away too much as well as free kicks and Gerrard simply couldn't get things moving as Montolivo kept him in check.
Up top Welbeck ran down blind alleys and 'talisman' Rooney simply didn't deliver the goods at this level....again! The bottom line for me is that the front line performed better when Rooney was amongst the splinters than when he was on the field.
His control was almost non-existent coupled with his threat to the Italian goal.
For his part Balotelli showed how to play as a centre forward. Intelligent movement lightning control and shots from all angles and distances. It was a great tribute to England's back line that he didn't get a hat trick and a dengration to himself that he didn't get another one.
Pirlo was the man. The centre of the park was his. The array of his passing looked special. Perhaps the only weakness being an inability to hit a forward with one of the delicious passes that he sprayed out tot he wings and along midfield.
Supported by Montolivo, who for me was superb until he tried his luck from in the shoot-out, being the only Italian not to score.
As the second half progressed it was always a case of damage limitation for England. Despite the changes made by Hodgson, nothing worked and England didn't look like they would score in open play, or indeed from a set piece.
For their part Italy cannoned the woodwork and forced quality saves out of Joe Hart. They had to be on their toes time and again to keep Balotelli at bay as the second half seemed to be more Balotelli v Lescott and Hart rather than England v Italy. Maybe the City defenders got the better of their Italian colleague, but even Joe Hart couldn't keep out his penalty kick as he opened the competition as the stalemate continued to 120 minutes.
Gerrard and Rooney scored for England as Pirloo, Nocherino and Diamanti made it look easy for Italy. The two Ashleys were more like the two Ronnies only not as professional as their timid kicks hit the bar in the case of Young and the goalkeeper in the case of Cole.
Why is it that time and again our left-footed kickers give their penalties away whereas the opposition left-footers score?
Why always us? Indeed.
So we move on to prepare for Brazil and the challenges that it presents. It has been said that Hodgson has ironed out the egos in this squad. There are two more to go. Rooney and Terry.
Hodgson still hasn't been beaten in open play but once again England's downfall is measured from twelve yards.
On and Roy, please PICK YOUR CHAMPIONS.