Italy are headed to the semifinals of Euro 2012 after a penalty shootout victory over England. The Azzurri were dominant throughout the match, but their finishing failed them for 120 minutes, as they failed to turn their possession and shot advantages into goals in a 0-0 draw. Gianluigi Buffon was the hero in the shootout with a great save on Ashley Cole, while Andrea Pirlo dominated the match.
The first half was eventful, with both teams generating clear chances on both ends. Even though the match ended 0-0 after 120 minutes of play, it was hardly boring or devoid of chances like some predicted. Things got off to a very fast start with Daniele De Rossi hitting the post in the 3rd minute, followed by Glen Johnson forcing a save out of Buffon just a minute later on the other end.
Those would be the best chances of the first half for either team, though they created plenty more. Italy were on top throughout the half, taking 13 shots and keeping the ball for two-thirds of the half, but Joe Hart was rarely tested. John Terry and Joleon Lescott were the best players on the pitch for England in the first half, making a number of great blocks and clearances. Andrea Pirlo and Riccardo Montolivo ran the show from the center, but Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker did well to keep them from playing too many through balls to the Italy strikers.
The second half was far from boring, but wasn't nearly as wide open as the first half. England got off to a terrific start with a quick chance for Wayne Rooney, but he miscontrolled the ball in the box in the opening minute of the half, wasting a golden chance. Italy would more or less dominate the half from then until the end, with De Rossi missing perhaps the best chance of the game in the 48th minute, badly missing a clear opportunity right in front of the goal.
Italy had three of their best chances of the game consecutively in the 52nd minute, and miraculously failed to score. Hart made a save on a long-range effort by Montolivo, then another on the rebound attempt by Mario Balotelli. Montolivo stepped up and looked poised to score on the third attempt, but was put off by a sliding challenge by Johnson and fired over the bar.
As the half went on, Montolivo began to disappear from the game while Pirlo dictated play more and more. He was far and away Italy's best player throughout the match, contributing to his team in all aspects of play. He was able to dispossess England players, shield the ball and turn away from traffic and set up his teammates for scoring chances all match long in an absolutely brilliant performance. He was part of almost every Italy half-chance in the game, but half-chances were all they got for most of the second half.
Wayne Rooney almost scored what would have been an equally spectacular and undeserved winner for England in stoppage time, but just missed connecting with an overhead kick attempt that sailed over the crossbar. That was the last significant kick of the ball in regular time, which led to an extra time period in which both teams seemed rather content with going to penalties.
Substitute forward Alessandro Diamanti had the best chance of extra time, and it didn't even come on an attempted shot. He hit a cross that seriously fooled an out of position Hart, flying past the England keeper before it ricochet off the far post. Diamanti had a solid extra time period and looked to set up fellow sub Antonio Nocerino for a 114th minute winner, but Nocerino was correctly ruled offside and his goal was disallowed. Both teams rode out the final minutes and headed to penalties, where England lived up to their reputation for failing to win big penalty shootouts.
After Mario Balotelli and Steven Gerrard made their penalties, Montolivo gave England a gift by missing his shot wide right of Hart. Rooney powered his shot into the back of the net, which was followed by an excellent cheeky chipped penalty by Pirlo.
Things changed with England's third taker, Ashley Young, who cracked his penalty off the crossbar. Nocerino made his spot kick, putting the pressure on Cole. Buffon looked like he knew exactly where Cole was going and dove to his left immediately, grabbing Cole's shot that didn't quite get all the way to the corner, allowing Buffon to save comfortably. That gave Diamanti the opportunity to win the match, and he did so easily, placing the ball far away from Hart to book Italy a semifinal date with Germany.
You can find our previous coverage of the game in our England vs. Italy, Euro 2012 quarterfinals StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.