Three thoughts: Italy nips England for well-deserved berth in semis
It was not so different in the second period, most of which Italy dominated.
De Rossi somehow shinned a volley wide from three yards out, and then three chances in quick succession: a De Rossi shot parried, Balotelli's follow-up blocked by Hart's knee and Ricardo Montolivo's lunging effort just over the top. Balotelli, who had 10 shots in the match, hit an overhead kick, Diamanti hit the post and Antonio Nocerino had a late header correctly ruled out for offside.
Even when the shootout got underway, Riccardo Montolivo's early miss, and Wayne Rooney's subsequent conversion, put England up 2-1 and Italy was close to elimination. But both Ashleys (Young and Cole) missed their spot-kicks and Alessandro Diamanti made no mistake to send Italy, deservedly, through to a semifinal against Germany.
The fact that Hart has made more saves than any other goalkeeper in the tournament, while Italy managed more shots on target in the game (20) as England managed in the entire tournament, tells its own story.
Okay, so England has failed to impress for long periods in any of its four games so far, its goal lived a charmed life, and once again simple tasks like keeping the ball seemed beyond it. But there was something heroic about topping Group B and being two penalties away from a semifinal place in spite of those deficiencies.
There is an irony to how Hodgson, a man who has coached in eight different countries and is multilingual enough to have spoken Swedish and Italian in press conferences before recent England matches, has done this: partly by instilling a sense of humility into his players (this is easier said than done -- just look at France and Holland, both arguably more talented sides but undone by its players' egos), and partly by changing England's style of play.
This last point was noted by Italian paper
While the last World Cup was notable for the sight of Germany starting to adopt the style of Holland, this tournament has seen England play in a much more Italian way, while it was Italy who peppered England's defence, often dangerously, with a series of English-style long balls. As one Italian fan put it during the game: "Now Italy knows what it's like to play against Italy."
Gazzetta is wrong to credit the likes of Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Mancini and Roberto di Matteo, though. Hodgson is merely continuing the work laid down by his predecessor Fabio Capello (a cent for his thoughts, tonight, please). Capello's England, after all, was the last team to beat Spain, back in November 2011.
Hodgson accepted this shift in a typically interesting way. During one training-session last week, he called his players together and told them a fable, "The Scorpion and the Frog." It goes like this: the scorpion wants to jump on a frog to help him cross a river; the frog is worried about being stung; the scorpion says, "I won't sting you as then you'll die and we'll both drown." The frog accepts, is stung, and they both drown.
The point is, there are some who can't change their nature, and if they don't, they will perish. The players were laughing too much to get the point (and suddenly the comments of Hodgson's former goalkeeper at Viking Stavanger Frode Olsen make a bit more sense. He once said: "Hodgson is by far the funniest coach I've ever had. He captivates and motivates the players before every session with a long stand-up show."), but Hodgson has set about changing England's nature.
The last vestige of that nature was apparent in the penalty shoot-out and even Hodgson could not affect that change. England's record now reads one victory from eight penalty shootouts. England is improving, but it is still a scorpion when it comes to spot-kicks.
You could argue that Germany, Spain and Portugal were such big favorites in their ties that their opponents approached them just with the intention of sitting back. The first 45 minutes was the most positive approach we had seen from England under Roy Hodgson, before normal service, or rather England's technical deficiencies in failing to keep possession, kicked in.
The rest of the match was all about if, and when, Italy would make the breakthrough. We were treated to a master-class in passing from Andrea Pirlo, whose final trick was the