England suffered heartbreak yet again as the Three Lions endured penalty shoot out misery in their Euro 2012 quarter-final with Italy.
…left a bitter taste…
And while there were obvious positives to extrapolate from an encouraging campaign, elimination left a bitter taste in the mouths of so many England supporters who have grown weary of the same old routine.
The tournament began brightly enough as England drew their Group D opener against a much-fancied French side in front of 42,000 fans in Donetsk.
…puffed out their chests…
The French were on a hot streak: 21 games unbeaten. And for once, England didn’t expect as Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye and Karim Benzema puffed out their chests and fluttered their feathers.
Though after thirty minutes, Joleon Lescott powerfully converted a pinpoint Gerrard cross to head England into the lead. For all of France’s possession, England looked more dangerous in front of goal and more resolute at the back.
However, France duly responded. As England fell deeper and deeper – a trait that would undermine them time and again – Nasri found space outside the box and curled a well-executed finish past Joe Hart.
And 1-1 was how it stayed: a point gained for England against opposition considered technically superior. But much would be said in France thereafter, as ‘negative’ English tactics were castigated and Patrice Evra claimed that a Barcelona-esque French side would sweep through to the quarters with ease.
Yet it was England who won their next two games, while France beat Ukraine but lost to Sweden. And Nasri ended his tournament with a foul-mouthed tirade at journalists, running the risk of a two year-ban from the French FA. Some way to show pride in wearing the shirt.
Sweden were next for the Three Lions and two sloppy goals conceded from set-pieces caused England problems. But not before Andy Carroll had given them the lead after another Gerrard assist.
…played his cards right…
At 2-1 down, England were showing signs of old, but manager Roy Hodgson played his cards right and deployed the ace in the pack. Theo Walcott surged on and scored from long range before assisting Danny Welbeck for the winner.
Two games down – four points accumulated.
…newfound team spirit…
And then England produced a famous fighting performance against the Ukraine, demonstrated by the newfound team spirit Hodgson had fostered despite so little time in charge.
Wave after wave of Ukrainian attacks probed forward. But England withstood the pressure. Wayne Rooney scored his first tournament goal for eight years (and there was yet another assist for Gerrard) and John Terry made an acrobatic goal-line clearance (even if replays showed the ball had actually crossed the line). A 1-0 win ensured England topped Group D and progressed to the last eight. Yet the journey would end there.
…face a glass ceiling…
England knew they would face a glass ceiling at some stage – but this should not have been it. For 120 agonising minutes, the Italians came at England with everything they had, but were wasteful and, despite having the majority of possession, they failed to break the deadlock.
It came down, as ever, to penalties. And from there, as ever, England succumbed.
…both missed their penalties.
Italy were first to falter but last to laugh, with Pirlo rolling back the years to add to a classic playmaker’s performance – a stunning chip past Joe Hart exuded confidence and composure. Ashley Young and Ashley Cole then both missed their penalties. It was left to Alessandro Diamanti to convert the winning spot kick.
And he did.