England exited Euro 2012 on penalties after misses by Ashley Young and Ashley Cole allowed the Italians to deservedly progress to a semi-final against Germany.
Roy Hodgson’s side were unchanged from their winning game against Ukraine and had a good spell early in the first half of this contest but fatigue set in and the Italians, with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield, soon had England chasing shadows.
They could have wrapped it up with a growing number of chances including a late extra time goal by substitute Antonio Nocerino which was rightly ruled offside.
Manchester City striker confidently took the very first penalty for the Italians and while Riccardo Montolivo missed his, Pirlo’s effort, chipped straight down the line past Joe Hart who had already dived, seemed to tip the balance back towards the Italians. England subsequently missed their penalties leaving former West Ham man Alessandro Diamanti to finish off England.
On balance, justice was done and the right side have progressed but some old issues have resurfaced for England.
- TACTICS: England’s tactics, playing a 4-4-2 against an Italy side where Andrea Pirlo seemed to be free to go about his business in a side that completed over twice as many passes and England and basically ran them ragged, have been described as rudimentary but with the right personnel it does work well. Arsene Wenger’s Invincible Arsenal side of almost a decade ago had two tough midfielders in Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, with pacy threat from out wide in Robert Pires or athletic power of Freddie Ljungberg plus the talent of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry upfront. Needless to say they also had that famous defence which included Ashley Cole. Perhaps the likes of Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and James Milner don’t quite hit the heights of Pires, Ljungberg or Henry but Hodgson has the basis of a plan to work on.
- TECHNIQUE: Today and throughout the tournament England had players who were decent in defence but unable to keep the ball long enough to hurt the opposition if they had good technique to retain possession. Too few British players today are seemingly able to keep the ball and use possession wisely. England barely scraped by a French side that were demolished by the Spanish and should have been well beaten by an Italian side who only produced a result against the Irish in their group stage. By the latter stages of any game against good technical opponents most England sides would be exhausted as they were in Kiev after seeing so little of the ball.
- FATIGUE: Tired players were also going to be a factor and even before extra time some players looked finished. Wayne Rooney in particular ran out of ideas and didn’t seem match fit. Either way, should something be done about the punishing Premier League season? Or the fact that certain English players have been noted for their less than continental standards of fitness? The issue of a mid-season break will surely be brought up again but the fact that too many games are being played by Premier League players will be discussed as there don’t seem to have been any ever present foreign players from the Premier League among the semi-finalists bar David Silva for Spain and Mario Balotelli for Italy. Both have been substituted or rested in most of their games.
- LUCK: There’s been a fair slice of luck for England in this tournament, but that will only take you so far. Only 1 win in 7 penalty shootouts now (against Spain in Euro 1996) is a topic that should be mentioned and then consigned to history until the next tournament. At least England were not robbed of a deserved victory this time.
- PERSONNEL: England have had mixed fortunes coming into the tournament. Losing their manager on the eve of the tournament and losing several quality players to injury prior to the tournament. Perhaps John Ruddy, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, and Gary Cahill wouldn’t have made a difference but don’t forget there were also players such as Jack Wilshere and Kyle Walker unavailable too. John Terry and Scott Parker may have been carrying injuries sustained prior to the tournament. Could Rio Ferdinand have improved matters? Germany successfully remodelled their side completely over the last decade – perhaps it’s time for some of the senior squad players to publically stand aside and allow Roy Hodgson to plan the 2014 Brazil World Cup campaign accordingly.