Although they matched up defensively with some last ditch tackling and solid blocks England failed to create and adequately threaten Italy
In the end the result was fair but no less painful for the English who had to suffer penalty defeat again. The 0-0 stalemate was decided on penalties and alike the game, England started well but faded at the end. Pre-tournament the media had deliberately played down the England team’s chances, switching pessimism and cold hard realism for the usual over-confidence and hubris.
It didn’t make any difference as again England chased the game and fed their opponent possession to bow out in the quarter finals. Although they matched up defensively with some last ditch tackling and solid blocks England failed to create and adequately threaten the Italian goal throughout the match. Unsurprisingly, England played liked Fulham and there was little to differentiate between Cappello’s and Hodgson’s teams, so much so that the final outcome was the same. If they could have gotten near Allesandro Pirlo it would have been a start.
The 33 year old Italian controlled the midfield and sprayed around passes with pin point accuracy. Upon the rare attentions of the opposition he needed only to swivel, glide and guide the ball to his team-mates. The cherry on the cake was his penalty; Joe Hart dived to his right hand side Pirlo deftly, chipped down to the centre. It was an act of supreme confidence which must have inspired his team-mates. England started the better team and put the Italians on the back foot for the first 15-20 minutes. Maybe spurred into action by Di Rossi’s swerving howitzer, the English attacked and pressurised the Italian defence forcing Buffon saves and Bonucci clearances. From then on Italy tightened their grip on the match.
The Italians controlled the bulk of possession and built up their many attacks through the general ship of Pirlo. England did not help matters by sitting so deep and inviting the Italians upon them. At times they looked more like Scotland and it was feat in itself that they managed to survive normal and extra time without conceding. Wave after wave of attack was battered away by an impressive English rear guard action. John Terry and Glen Johnson tirelessly threw their body into blocks, challenges or scooped clearances into touch. Mario Balotelli slowly started to make an impact on the game but in the main he was marshalled well and his shots were well handled by an impressive Joe Hart.
Hodgson finally decided to make changes after the break and brought on Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll for James Milner and Danny Welbeck. Carroll’s influence was immediate and his size clearly troubled the Italian defence. In contrast Rooney was largely ineffectual and unimpressive. As the game moved into extra time and penalties loomed you could tell that England were shattered. When Riccardo Montolivo missed his penalty it seemed as if England’s fortune had finally changed but in truth they had used a fair chunk of their luck reserves with Terry’s clearance versus Ukraine. It was a cruel way to exit the European Championships but England can have little complaint.
The players have not lacked effort or desire in their 4 games but maybe just the extra bit of class and ability to match the top teams. Personally, I think England have done better than they could have expected. They have ridden their luck at times and performed solidly without really impressing. The young players will benefit from the Euros experience and should be the base of their World Cup qualification campaign. Some of the veterans should step aside and retire from international football. The golden generation has been more iron pyrite than Monte Cristo’s treasure.
It remains to be seen how Roy Hodgson will fair. His belated appointment went against public opinion and preference and his pragmatic team choices and defensive tactics, while ultimately effective have not inspired England beyond Capello’s or Eriksson’s achievements. Qualification for Brazil should be a formality but how England do it then performs in 2014 will determine Hodgson reputation and popularity. The England supporters are eager to be entertained and playing alike Fulham or Scotland will not suffice.