Euro 2012: England pay the penalty yet again, loses to Italy on penalties
KIEV June 25: England are out of Euro 2012 after a defeat on penalties to Italy on a night of grand footballing drama in Kiev that was first explosive, then thumb-gnawingly attritional and finally rather desolate.
If there is consolation for England it is that they have exceeded expectations in Ukraine: and here they played their part in an absorbing quarter final, capped by the operatic agony of a shoot-out to end a campaign serenaded right to the death by a wonderfully unrelenting band of England supporters inside the stadium.
The end when it came was swift: with the match scoreless after 120 minutes Riccardo Montolivo missed an early penalty for Italy, only for Ashley Young to then miss for England too, before Ashley Cole's kick was saved, leaving Alessandro Diamanti to win it for Italy – which he did nervelessly.
And so football may not be coming home, but England's footballers are, after a final trip back to Krakow to say farewell to a city that has proved a happy choice as team base. There will be many regrets at what might have been after the resilient, disciplined and very occasionally exuberant victories against Sweden and Ukraine. But then, this has turned out to be an unexpectedly uplifting tournament for England fans generally, fortified in advance by widespread rock-bottom expectations of a team stitched together in record time and depleted of key players.
In the Olympic stadium England were wondrously persevering over the full 120 minutes, a team of tyros and old hands pushed the limits of their energies but still managing to retain the tactical disciplines Roy Hodgson has conjured during his eight weeks in charge.
Earlier, as the hours ticked away towards kickoff, this had felt like the day Kiev, venue for the final, really got the idea of staging a football tournament. In brilliant sunshine its central boulevards were thronged with local oddities: pigeon-fanciers, Ukrainian body-poppers and a miniskirted cowgirl folk-drumming troupe, while in the heart of the fanzone a slice of England had erected itself. By late afternoon a group of a thousand shirtless Englishmen – some in slightly spooky cardboard Prince Philip masks – were bouncing around on a stage at the now-occupied "Swedish Corner" singing God Save The Queen, Football's Coming Home and You Can Stick You're Leaning Tower Up Your Arse, the only mildly adversarial note on show.
The 70,000-capacity Olympics stadium is by far the biggest venue at Euro 2012, a vast spiny space cruiser-type construct plonked in the heart of Kiev. It is the kind of flagship enormo-drome constructed with precisely this kind of global sporting beano in mind albeit, in a break from the group stages, this time around the deafening pomp of the pre-match ceremony, with its platoons of yellow silk-clad ninja dancers seemed, if not exactly welcome, then at least less in keeping with a breathless pre-match atmosphere.
It was from England's end, source of a rousing, defiantly tuneless God Save The Queen before kick-off, that the greater noise came as the match began during an early spell entirely dominated by Italy: Daniele De Rossi hit the post with a shot from 20 yards in the third minute. At that stage England had failed to complete a single pass.
After which England were briefly rampant, showing a thrilling aggression in the tackle and creating chances for Glen Johnson, Danny Welbeck and Scott Parker in quick succession. For Hodgson's England this was something new: a fluency seen so far only in glimpses in the helter-skelter second half against Sweden.
This match had been billed as the footballing equivalent of a fight between two hedgehogs, a meeting of counter-punchers forever crouched behind their defensive quills. Instead the first half was absorbingly cut and thrust, with both teams, maybe even to their own surprise, committing themselves to sometimes full-blooded attack.