England’s penalty curse struck again on Sunday as Italy advanced to the semi-finals of Euro 2012 with victory in a shootout after a tense quarter-final duel finished 0-0 after extra-time.
Italy face Germany in the semi-finals in Warsaw on Thursday after England’s campaign came to a bitterly familiar end with their sixth defeat in a penalty shootout in seven attempts since 1990.
Italy clinched a 4-2 penalty shootout win after Ashley Young sent his spot-kick against the bar and Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon saved from Ashley Cole to seal England’s fate.
The winning penalty was struck by substitute Alessandro Diamanti, to leave England desolate once more at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.
England coach Roy Hodgson said his side had given their all.
“We’ve gone out without being beaten, with our heads held high and making the country proud,” he told BBC television. “They got their bit of luck and it wasn’t to be for us.”
England skipper Steven Gerrard was equally dejected.
“The players have given eveything,” he told the BBC. “I thought we might have the luck in the penalty shootout, but it wasn’t to be. The lads at the back were fantastic, we have done the country proud, but we go home heartbroken and that is hard to take.”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli agreed that penalties were a lottery, but insisted the better side had won.
“We did the things we were supposed to do, but then we had some luck and we did well,” Prandelli said. “When you have penalties anything can happen, but we really deserved it.”
England had taken a 2-1 lead in the shootout after Riccardo Montolivo hit his spot-kick wide, but Young ceded England’s advantage when he crashed his penalty off the bar.
Antonio Nocerino scored to restore Italy’s advantage and when Buffon saved from Cole, Diamanti stepped up to clinch victory.
The defeat extended England’s poor record of never having won a knockout game on foreign soil against a top-level nation, but England could have few complaints after being comprehensively outplayed over the 120 minutes of normal and extra-time, Italy with 35 attempts to England’s nine, while enjoying 64 percent of possession.
The tone for a surprisingly open first half had been set after only three minutes, when Daniele De Rossi rattled the woodwork with a thumping long-range shot that had Joe Hart beaten.
England responded immediately and squandered a golden chance to take the lead when Glen Johnson’s effort was superbly saved by Buffon.
With their confidence lifted, England enjoyed their best spell of the match and a curling Johnson cross saw Wayne Rooney’s diving header fly over with the Manchester United striker under pressure from Ignazio Abate.
Having soaked up the early pressure, Italy soon got into their stride, with man-of-the-match Andrea Pirlo springing England’s offside trap to send Mario Balotelli racing clear on 25 minutes.
The Manchester City striker took just a fraction too long, though, and John Terry was able to snuff out the danger with a fine covering tackle.
Italy finished the half the stronger of the two sides, Antonio Cassano testing Hart with a long-range effort which was parried wide.
Cassano then turned provider when he headed back across goal for Balotelli, only for Joleon Lescott to get a vital touch ahead of his City teammate.
Italy’s dominance stretched into the second half and England continued to live dangerously.
De Rossi wasted a golden chance to put his side ahead when he hooked wide after Claudio Marchisio headed Hart’s punched clearance into the box.
Hart then rescued England with a fine double save, parrying De Rossi’s long-range effort, before blocking Balotelli’s follow-up. Montolivo shot over the bar and England breathed again.
Hodgson made a positive double substitution on the hour, bringing on Andy Carroll for Danny Welbeck and replacing James Milner with Theo Walcott.
The changes had little effect, though, with England unable to exploit Walcott’s pace, leaving the Arsenal winger a frustrated spectator.
Prandelli, meanwhile, rang the changes for Italy, bringing on Diamanti for Cassano and Nocerino for De Rossi.
Diamanti was soon into the action testing Hart with a firm low shot. Nocerino also had a chance to snatch victory two minutes from time, latching onto Marchisio’s lovely pass, only for Johnson to block.
Italy again dominated in extra-time, Diamanti’s curling cross eluding the entire England defense and hitting the post.
Then, with five minutes remaining, Nocerino had the ball in the net from Diamanti’s cross, only to be correctly ruled off-side.