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Euro 2012 - Italy will cause Germany problems after downing England
Euro 2012 has had it's fair share of goals and heading into last night's quarter final match between England and Italy, there had yet to be a scoreless draw. That streak would come to an end but it was by far and away the most entertaining of the four quarter final matchups. A timely stop from veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and a decisive spot kick from Alessandro Diamanti, pushed the Italians to victory and a semi final date with Germany on June 28th in Warsaw.
Edmonton - June 25, 2012 - Euro 2012 has had it's fair share of goals and heading into last night's quarter final match between England and Italy, there had yet to be a scoreless draw. That streak would come to an end, as neither side could find a goal through 120 minutes of play, but it was by far and away the most entertaining of the four quarter final matchups. A timely stop from veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and a decisive spot kick from substitute Alessandro Diamanti, pushed the Italians to victory and a semi final date with Germany on June 28th in Warsaw.
While the Italians have long been praised for their tactical discipline on the pitch, they have been criticized by many for the lack of flair in their game, despite having some of the best players in the world. However, on this night, that was not the case. They were the aggressor from the outset and played a very attractive brand of soccer but were unable to put the ball behind goalkeeper Joe Hart.
The chances came early and often, as Daniele De Rossi's curling strike rattled off the post from about twenty-five yards out, just three minutes in. England would immediately answer with a chance of their own but Buffon stoned Glen Johnson from six yards out, with a wonderful palm stop on Johnson's attempt. For the first time in four quarter final matches, we finally had some intensity and free flowing play from both sides on the pitch and it was a joy to watch.
There would be no goals in the opening forty-five but both teams had their chances. From an Italian stand point, everything ran through their on field general, Andrea Pirlo. Be it a perfectly weighted ball over the English backline to spring Mario Balotelli or just his ridiculously calm demeanor when dealing with the ball anywhere on the field, it was beautiful thing to watch him wave his magic. The maestro had come to play and was at his finest for the Azzurri.
De Rossi would get another opportunity in the opening moments of the second half but his dreadful attempt, from six yards out, ended with the ball not even hitting the target. Italy kept coming but try as they might, they could not find the ice breaker. It was starting to seem as though this could be England's night. Nearly every bounce was going their way and the Italians continued to force the ball up the middle, instead of going down the flanks and into the middle.
Despite their domination, Italy had nothing to show for their efforts and they finally decided to go to their bench looking for a spark. Off came national side fixtures De Rossi and Antonio Cassano and on to the pitch came Diamanti and Antonio Nocerino. Surprising moves, in that Diamanti was selected ahead of veteran Antonio Di Natale and that De Rossi was removed at all. Certainly tough decisions for Cesare Prandelli but ones that would ultimately by off huge for the Azzurri bench boss.
After ninety minutes of play produced nothing, the two sides were headed to extra time and little changed over the following thirty minutes. Italy continued to press, Diamanti hit the post early in the first fifteen minute half of extra time but the game remained scoreless. Nocerino looked to have finally broken the deadlock, when his header found the back of the net with only minutes left but it was rightly waved off for being offside. That meant we were headed for penalties...which is exactly what England was playing for.
Balotelli would start things off by beating his Manchester City teammate with a perfect strike from the penalty spot but that was quickly answered by Steven Gerrard, to even things up at one. Riccardo Montolivo would be next for the Italians but his shot inexcusably missed the target, advantage England. Wayne Rooney would follow and he calmly beat Buffon to give the English a 2-1 lead and put all the pressure onto the shoulders of Pirlo.
For Italy to have any chance, their general had to put the ball in the back of the net and he did in style. With Hart jumping around on his goal line and seemingly trying to intimate the veteran midfielder, Pirlo sent a little chip shot into the middle of the net, as Hart dove hard to his right and allowing the ball to slowly bounce into the net. In my mind, the shootout turned at that point. Not only was it a huge goal but it was how Pirlo scored that did it. Plus the fact that they had Buffon in their back pocket, didn't hurt.
Ashley Young, who was a non-factor all game long, riffled his attempt off the crossbar and suddenly, it was advantage Italy. Substitute Antonio Nocerino made no mistake, putting the Italians up 3-2 and making the next spot kick a must for England. Chelsea defender Ashley Cole stepped up and confidently took his penalty but the Azzurri keeper was more than up to the task. Buffon dove to to his left and easily handled Cole's attempt, triggering chants of "Gigi,Gigi,Gigi" throughout packs of Italian fans all over the world.
That left the game on the boot of Diamanti and the Bologna man showed nerves of steel, as he calmly put the ball in the back of the net and rightly sent the Italians through to the semi-finals. It was certainly a tough way for the English to lose but they not hang their heads. They gave it all they had but Italy were the better side and will give an undefeated Germany side their first real test of Euro 2012.