Penalties needed to separate Beauty from the Beast
Published : 24 Jun 2012 23:18:28
In the Beauty and the Beast fairytale the two protagonists fall in love before living happily ever after - once the beast has turned into a handsome Prince Charming of course.
For 120 minutes in Kiev the beauty of Italian guile and trickery jousted with the beastly pace and power of England before penalties finally separated them to give Italy a Euro 2012 semi-final berth.
Both sides contrived to miss clear chances to break the deadlock, with Italy the prime culprits in terms of finishing and England guilty of poor decision-making and shoddy execution in the final third.
Four-time world champions Italy missed by far the greater number of chances in a game they largely dominated.
But it was nonetheless an intriguing clash of contrasting styles.
The Azzurri were looking to find space between England's back four and midfield, either through attacking midfielder Riccardo Montolivo or the deep-dropping forward Antonio Cassano.
Those players made England's defence uncomfortable while Andrea Pirlo dinked clever balls over the top for Mario Balotelli.
Twice the Manchester City striker exploited uncharacteristically poor positioning from John Terry but the Chelsea captain recovered brillantly once while goalkeeper Joe Hart saved the second with ease.
England were vulnerable to players peeling off and latching onto the ball over the top whilst the man lurking in front of their backline kept them in a constant state of confusion.
But Italy were equally susceptible to England's rapier counters, particularly down the flanks where full-backs Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate looked far from at ease - at least for the first hour or so as thereafter England's attacking threat essentially fizzled out.
Italy's runners kept enjoying success in the second period with Daniele De Rossi taking advantage of hesitant England defending to drift twice beyond the defence with Claudio Marchisio and Pirlo, again, feeding him.
But just as England suffered from lack of precision in possession, Italy's finishing was far from accurate.
Perhaps Italy's best chance came a minute from normal time when Marchisio's spearing pass was met by substitute Antonio Nocerino, darting in off his flank at an angle, but this time Glen Johnson got back to block.
It was last-ditch defending from England all the way, but it was working.
And once Andy Carroll came on for England, pace gave way exclusively to power and it was his header back into the mix that set up Wayne Rooney for what should have been a dramatic last-gasp winner, only for the Manchester United star to mistime his overhead bicycle kick.
Italy had the ball in the net in extra-time when Nocerino broke beyond the backline again, but he went a half yard too soon and it was rightly chalked off.
And so penalties it was that chased tactics and contrasting styles out the window.
England came into the competition with one successful shoot-out in six attempts, while Italy had won twice in seven.
Alessandro Diamanti scored the winning penalty after misses from the two Ashleys, Young and Cole.
The Beast never turned into a prince and now Beauty heads to Warsaw on Thursday to face the Germans.