For England and its supporters, depressing is the only word I can think of to describe what just happened. 0-0 after extra time. Italy prevail 4-2 on penalties and England bows out of the European championship. A disturbingly similar feeling to what I experienced in 2004 and 2006.
But it was all scripted, isn’t it? I mean who would have expected this England team to progress let alone win the Euros?!
Looking at the squad, any football pundit would say that this is a squad worthy of playing at the highest level if all the players play together as a team. The likes of Wayne Rooney in attack, Steven Gerrard dictating the midfield and John Terry being a rock in the defensive line of the ‘three lions’.
But I wonder what goes wrong every single time they put on that trademark white stripe and fail to reach the expectations of all England fans.
We questioned the lack of performance by the Dutch, and even if England qualified for the quarter finals, both of them sailed out of the competition on the same boat.
I think it is safe to say that the entirety of Sunday’s quarterfinal match was comprehensively dictated by the Azzurris. The better team won, and will advance to take on the Germans in the semifinal. Andrea Pirlo was a class act. At the age of 33, his delicate passes and single-handed domination of the midfield was unbelievable. Mario Balotelli managed to keep a lid on his hot head and held the ball up nicely, creating numerous chances for himself but failed to take any.
Possession wise, there was only team on the field. Adding to that, another standout for the Italians was substitute Alessandro Diamanti. His decisive penalty, along with his creativity and hunger, added a much-needed spark to the attack.
On the English side of things, James Milner once again showed his ineffectiveness on the flank, and really failed to offer anything positive. And just when things looked promising, he would either lose the ball or play it all the way back to Joe Hart. It was shocking to see him start before the pacy winger and in-form Walcott or even the talented youngster Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Wayne Rooney lazily jogged around hoping that the ball would magically end up in the back of the net. With him or without him, England didn’t miss a striker.
Wait… but did they have any?
By all accounts, they were defeated before the first penalty had even been struck. Things momentarily took a turn for the better when Riccardo Montolivo smashed his penalty wide. England fans went berserk as they sensed victory, but their ecstasy was short-lived as under tremendous pressure, Andrea Pirlo cheekily chipped the ball past the helpless Joe Hart.
Pressure? What pressure? Still the ball was in England’s court. Ashley Young stepped up and smacked the post from five yards out and Ashley Cole followed up with the most predictable penalty kick as he chose the same side like he did in the Munich final. Only, this time he hit it worse.
All that was left to do was watch Diamanti stroke his penalty past Hart and wheel away in celebration.
Many of the flaws in England’s efforts and game plan on Sunday can be traced back to the Capello era. A new coach was appointed just two weeks before a major tournament. Wayne Rooney once again began and finished a tournament imperfectly. The suspension he foolishly earned by kicking out at Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic proved costly. The lack of depth in areas such as central midfield due to the injuries suffered by Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Jack Wilshere also hurt. It might have solved a few selection dilemmas — Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker became automatic choices. But the duo in the engine room were duly tired in the latter stages and only an inexperienced Jordan Henderson was available in relief. John Terry’s upcoming court case, the subsequent controversy surrounding Rio Ferdinand’s non-selection, the lengthy injury list…England’s chances were gone even before a ball had been kicked.
Now it’s once again back to the drawing board for Hodgson and his men. They can either sit around and sulk about it — or take it as something to build upon.
To be very honest, no one expected ‘this’ English side to conjure any miracles in Poland and Ukraine but, two years from now in Brazil, the fans and press are not likely to be so forgiving.