Let me say this up front first. I only started watching the match from the 73rd minute onwards. Time difference and work in the morning plus a tiring day before, all combined to ensure that my body doesn’t respond to the alarm ringing at 2:30am for the start of the match. Therefore the below observations are from the 73rd minute onwards until the end of the penalty kicks.
What I saw was a rather one sided match where the onus was on Italy to score and win the tie while England were doing all they can to prevent that from happening. The sporadic surges forward did little to trouble the tight Italian defence lead by the pair of Juventus centre backs. Neither keeping the ball on the ground or playing those high ball to Carroll worked to create opportunity to trouble Buffon.
Had Italy been able to convert their chances, the match would have ended in normal time instead of going to extra time. From the last quarter of the regulation time match, Antonio Nocerino with the best opportunity. Running between the lines to receive a wonderful reverse pass from Claudio Marchisio. But his attempt at goal was blocked by the impressive Glenn Johnson who tracked him all the way from the right.
Extra time came and went but Italy were still the one dictating proceedings. Pirlo very much at the forefront of everything good about Italy last night. England’s hopes were not helped by the substitution of a tired Scott Parker which left even more space in midfield for Pirlo to exploit. At this point in the match, fresh minds and bodies were needed. Someone who could be counted on to run non-stop for the next 30 minutes. Not headless runs but runs to make himself open for passes or runs to bring the ball out of harm’s way.
That is where the major difference came for both sides of the bench. Prandelli brought on the energetic Maggio while Hodgson brought on Henderson. There should be no explanation needed for the specific substitution. In a midfield that is already struggling to win the ball back from Italy nor keep possession, Henderson’s presence was baffling. A Phil Jones or even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would have provided more energy to England’s midfield.
When it came down to penalties, it was more on the focus with that little bit element of luck. Chasing the game and the opposition for almost 120 minutes can be very taxing. 68% ball possession to Italy was one of the stat, that’s a lot of time spent without the ball. The mind is still able to tell the body exactly what to do but when tiredness kicks in, the outcome may be slightly affected. One shot onto the bar and one penalty save later, England could have no complaints over another shootout exit. Nerves plays a big part in the shootout and Nicklas Bendtner used the right description for Pirlo’s kick – “balls of steel”.
It was a little strange reading the match reports and the thoughts that came after the match yesterday. “Where’s our Pirlo? / Why don’t we have a Pirlo?”. It was almost as if no one in the British press has ever heard of this Andrea Pirlo. The man who has won honours with AC Milan before and has just led Juventus to their first Serie A title since being promoted. The problem is not so much why Pirlo was singled out but rather, the outcry over something that a general observer of world football would know.
The signs were there after World Cup 2010. Calls for the English squad to be refreshed with newer core of players were sound out yet it remains inexplicably the same. The spine of Rooney-Gerrard-Terry still exist. I’m not saying individually they are the problem and I also understand that the changes has been made unavailable through injuries, especially to Jack Wilshere.
However, the changes were too few and far in between for England to come out of their international doldrums. Germany made sweeping changes after their feeble attempt of retaining the European Championship in 2000 while Italy did likewise after their own fiasco in South Africa. To a certain extent France also did the same as Italy, just that when it finally mattered, they reverted and steered away from their winning formula.
Italy put their trust on a set of players who are capable of fitting in various different formations and still be as efficient. Now, I’m not slating Hodgson because he was hardly given much time to gel together a team. Yet, if England harbours any hope of international success, flexibility is needed. Let’s take two examples, Italy played two different formations and many smaller different combinations which were successful. Meanwhile, Germany while using the same system, had players who bring different qualities to those positions.
This would be consider an acceptable championship for Hodgson due to the nature and timing of his appointment. The future is not bleak if this tournament is anything to go by. Guess we’ll see more in the coming months when the World Cup qualifiers kicks off. As for Italy, they head towards the semi-final to face the aforementioned Germany. The would confident, after all, they did go toe to toe with another favourite in Spain and didn’t come away with a defeat.