Football is rarely a predictable game but sometimes, just sometimes, it is.
The writing was on the wall as England and Italy kicked-off their Euro 2012 quarter-final on Sunday.
With two defensive and cautious teams meeting for a place in the semis against Germany, it was more a case of waiting for extra-time and penalties than wondering if they were ever going to come.
And when the predicted shootout did arrive, Italy walked away with the glory when goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saved Ashley Cole’s spot kick and Alessandro Diamanti took full advantage.
“They haven’t just been great, they’ve been more than that and then in penalties you always need a bit of luck”
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli
It was a victory fully deserved by the Azzuri.
“We played a great game and deserved to win,” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters after the match.
“They haven’t just been great, they’ve been more than that and then in penalties you always need a bit of luck.”
However, Italy were not lucky.
From start to finish, Prandelli’s team dominated. They could have been at least two goals to the good in the first half if Mario Balotelli had his scoring boots on.
The troublesome striker missed a number of opportunities to put Italy ahead, an early one-on-one with Man City teammate Joe Hart the easiest of the lot.
Balotelli’s touch did not improve in front of goal. His second attempt went straight at Hart who was often a target for the Italian strikers.
The England keeper was kept busy but rarely stretched throughout the match.
Balotelli continued to miss his chances as his team struggled to convert possession into goals.
Roy Hodgson’s team on the other hand lacked creativity and could barely keep the ball for more than a couple of passes.
With a lack of playmakers in midfield, England sat back off the ball leaving Italy’s fate in their own hands.
However, the Italians could not make the breakthrough.
An uneventful first period of extra time was followed by a second half that saw Balotelli extend his misfiring run with a poor free-kick.
Joe Hart managing to keep a smile on his face despite the looming penalties
England fans had their hearts in their mouths as Nocerino headed in from close range but the linesman rightly ruled it offside.
So it was time for England fans to take their hearts out their mouths, just in time to put them back in again for the penalty shoot-out.
Despite an abysmal time in front of goal, Balotelli calmly slotted the first penalty past Hart.
Steven Gerrard – who has been strong for England throughout the tournament – didn’t disappoint either scoring an eerily similar penalty to Balotelli’s.
Italy were the first team to slip up when Riccardo Montolivo gave England the advantage firing well wide. But as is so often the case in penalty shoot-outs, missing the first penalty didn’t hand England a place in the semis. Anything but.
Wayne Rooney and Andrea Pirlo (with a superbly cheeky effort) both put away their kicks and then up stepped a nervous looking Ashley Young. The Man United player had been looking worried even before his turn came and it was hardly surprising when he rifled the ball straight at the woodwork.
The advantage now swung in the Italilans favour and when Antonio Nocerino sent Hart the wrong way, the pressure was piled on Chelsea defender Ashely Cole.
The occasion proved too much for Cole whose finish lacked the razor sharp edge of his new hairstyle. Legendary Italian keeper Buffon celebrated his save emphatically knowing victory was just a kick away.
Alessandro Diamanti was the man who stepped up to sparkle for Italy, justly putting them through to the semi-finals and England out of the competition.
Italy now face Germany in the semis on Thursday, a team who’ll provide somewhat more of a challenge than the English.