Brave England suffer cruel exit

ENGLAND (0) vs ITALY (0)
Italy win 4-2 on penalties

Young and Cole miss in shootout as curse strikes again

MANAGER Roy Hodgson leapt to the defence of Ashley Young and Ashley Cole last night after the pair’s missed spot-kicks condemned England to yet another heartbreaking penalty shoot-out exit from a major tournament.

Their blunders saw England’s quietly encouraging European Championship campaign snuffed out in the quarter-finals, although there can be little argument that Italy deserved to progress to a last-four date with Germany.

Hodgson’s men carried little threat after an action-packed first half and Italy looked the most likely to prevail in a fraught tie long before former West Ham forward Alessandro Diamanti converted the winning penalty.

And former Inter Milan coach Hodgson, reflecting on the end of his first tournament in charge, insisted Cole and Young deserved as much credit as anyone for getting England to the last eight without losing match.

“Anyone can miss a penalty. They were not nonchalant. Ashley Young’s smashed against the bar and Ashley Cole’s was well saved by Gianluigi Buffon,” said Hodgson.

“A player’s reputation should not be forged on a penalty shoot-out, their reputation should be forged on the four games and in those four games we have not lost. We stuck to our guns right until the end and the players should be very proud of what they did.

“I have learnt a lot about the players and their determination and dedication to the task and the fact they are so keen to play for England.

“There were some heroic performances not only tonight but also in the previous three games.”

Little in England’s safety-first approach to this tournament or Italy’s tradition of conservatism suggested chances would flourish, but Daniele de Rossi’s magnificent swerving shot off the post in the third minute set the tone for a frantic first half.

Moments later, Glen Johnson scooped into Gianluigi Buffon’s arms from six yards out, and Wayne Rooney met a right-wing cross with a diving header that flew just over.

Mario Balotelli, Italy’s mercurial striker, looked determined to shine against familiar English opponents, and went close to opening the scoring several times before the interval. First John Terry recovered quickly to make a last-ditch block on Balotelli as he bore down on Joe Hart, then the Manchester City star saw his acrobatic volley saved.

Amid all that, Danny Welbeck side-footed wide first time after a slick exchange of passes with Rooney, but England’s early vim was dissipating as Italy, and Pirlo in particular, increasingly dictated the contest. De Rossi somehow shinned wide from four yards out straight after half-time, and England crowded out Balotelli as he sought to pounce on Riccardo Montolivo’s parried shot.

When Theo Walcott crossed for fellow substitute Andy Carroll the ball dropped invitingly to Young, whose shot was deflected wide, but Italy were soon on the front foot again, Johnson making a decisive block on Antonio Nocerino.

England finished the 90 minutes with perhaps their best move, a sweeping attack finished by Rooney hooking over with his back to goal.

Diamanti hit the post with a teasing free-kick in extra-time and only an offside flag denied Nocerino after he had stooped to head in Christian Maggio’s delicate cross.

And so it went to penalties, as so often in England’s miserable history at major tournaments, with the outcome, due to misses by Young and Cole and an exquisite chip by Pirlo, also painfully familiar.

HOW THE SHOOT-OUT MISERY UNFOLDED
Balotelli 1-0

Gerrard 1-1

Montolivo 1-1

Rooney 1-2

Pirlo 2-2

Young 2-2

Nocerino 3-2

Cole 3-2

Diamanti 4-2

HOW THEY RATED ENGLAND
Joe Hart 9
Was busy all match, and never looked like getting beaten. Could not have asked for more from him.

Glen Johnson 8
Provided usual attacking threat and also very composed defensively. Made one vital block.

Joleon Lescott 7
Defended well as part of an effective unit and proved more than worthy of his place.

John Terry 9
Led superbly, made vital challenges and used all of his experience to perform.

Ashley Cole 8
Typically impressive. Never looked troubled, and retains all of his class, despite his missed penalty.

James Milner 6
His best performance of the tournament. Defended very well, just lacked quality with final ball.

Scott Parker 7
Worked exceptionally hard when much was being asked of him. Distribution not the best, however.

Steven Gerrard 7
Would be harsh to expect too much more. Led by example, though lacked attacking threat.

Ashley Young 4
Poor. Lacked confidence and it showed in his play. Only positives came defensively. Missed penalty.

Wayne Rooney 7
Threatened in possession, and linked play exceptionally, though still expect more from such a talent.

Danny Welbeck 5
Ineffectual. Hardly his fault given level of England’s possession, but game passed him by.

Substitutes
Andy Carroll (60 mins, for Welbeck): Made the most of his ability in difficult circumstances. Provided a significant aerial outlet, but had no chances in front of goal. Theo Walcott (61 mins, for Milner): Needed to provide greater attacking threat and use his pace, but rarely did so beyond one good run and teasing cross for Carroll Jordan Henderson (94 mins, for Parker): Maintained England’s shape, could do little more.

Roy Hodgson 8
Not much more he could have done. England fulfilled their potential when restricted by their limitations.

EURO 2012

SEMI-FINALS
Wednesday 27 June, Donetsk, 7:45pm
Portugal v Spain

Thursday 28 June, Warsaw, 7:45pm
Germany v Italy