And so the quarterfinals have come to their final match. England v. Italy, for the right to take on Die Mannschaft. Cesare Prandelli has been the tactical wizard of the tournament, chopping and changing Italy’s defensive structure to meet his opponents. We’re likely to see the same 4-1-3-2 with which Italy so easily brushed Ireland aside to end the group stages, rather than the more fluid 3-5-2 that held Spain and Croatia to draws. The bigger question, though, is whether corner flag model, fireworks enthusiast and FourFiveTwo Spirit Animal Mario Balotelli will start over one of Antonio Cassano or Tony Christmas.
For the English, you know what you’re getting. Two banks of four, set to defend and break quickly to Wayne Rooney, playing just in behind either Welbeck or Carroll. James Milner will run a groove in the right flank for 70 minutes, before giving way to Theo Walcott. Thus Woy wrote it, thus it will ever be, forever and ever amen.
Lineups and the rest of the match after the jump. Avanti!
TWO BANKS OF FOUR: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young; Rooney, Welbeck
PIU DI CATENACCIO: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti; Pirlo;Di Rossi, Montolivo, Marchisio; Cassano, Balotelli
So Balotelli starts for Italy, and Hodgson goes for pace over power by selecting Welbeck
Tunnel time! And Stevie G appears to be clutching a rather impressive plaque for the prematch exchange.
Italy prepare to kick off …
And here we go. Italy pass it around the back before Balotelli hits one tamely into the turf in front of Hart from about 35.
2′: Italy with some nice interplay around the box before Balzaretti’s cross is just over everyone. Abate attempts to play it in, but to no avail.
3′: POST! De Rossi on the half-volley from just beyond the D with a curling drive that hits just below the upper 90 on the left-hand (Hart’s right) post.
4′: WHAT A SAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gerrard hit a nice cross-field ball to Johnson, who interplays with Milner before the latter hits a low cross from the right of the area. Johnson struggles with the ball on his feet before chipping a drive that Buffon claws out and collects.
5′: England attempt another move, but Bonucci stops it in the area.
7′: Rooney attempts to release Milner down the right flank, but the pass is overhit. Down the other end, Cassano fouls Lescott just outside the area.
9′: Gerrard’s low cross is cleared, but only to Parker. Parker to Cole to Young down the left, but Barzagli heads the cross clear in front of Milner
11′: RAF Air Captain Scott Parker wins the ball down the channel to Rooney; Rooney drives into the area and passes to Welbeck, but the latter’s shot is blocked by Bonucci. The resultant corner is headed clear by the same, and Ashley Young gets away with a push to win an English throw deep.
12′: Johnson’s cross from the throw is just over Rooney’s head; Young plays it in, but Buffon punches clear, and Parker’s shot on the volley is wide.
13′: Johnson plays a deft chipped ball on for Rooney, whose headed attempt is actually cleared by Abate, but the ref awards a goal kick.
14′: Italy with some nice work down the left flank, but Balzaretti’s cross is easily cleared by Terry.
15′: England break through Gerrard, who plays Rooney into space down the left, but the Hair Club President’s cross balloons over the net.
16′: Balotelli wins a free kick down the right channel under pressure from Lescott. Pirlo to take. . . his cross is well over hit, and Balzaretti pops his cross over the goal.
17′: Cassano plays it to Montolivo, but the latter’s chipped ball runs too long and Hart claims.
19′: Balotelli receives another chipped ball from Montolivo, but his back header to Cassano is cut out. Cassano then loses the ball on the D trying to get a shot off, and then Balzaretti wins a corner off of Milner. Welbeck heads clear, and Balzaretti bundles wide for a goal kick.
21′: Balzaretti in acres of space, cuts it out to Cassano, whose shot from about 25 yards in the left channel is well over.
22′: Balotelli attempts to start a run down the right, but the assistant flags him for pulling Lescott’s shirt.
23′: Italy play it around the back; Montolivo with a wonderulf roulette near the center circle to get free, but Lescott stops him at the area. The ball works to Cassano, who hits tamely into Hart’s hands.
25′: Down the other end, Milner’s cross is headed out by Bonucci, and Italy break. Balotelli gets the ball in space near the D, and his shot is blocked by Terry. Potentially with his hand.
27′: England with nice interplay between Parker, Cole, Young and Rooney, but the last’s attempt to switch play is cut out.
28′: Balzaretti plays up into space, and Pirlo and Montolivo play it around before the latter shoots wide from 30.
30′: Italy play it around between Balzaretti, Balotelli, Pirlo and De Rossi. Montolivo hits a cross field pass to Balzaretti, who hits it off of Lescott and out for a throw.
31′: Montolivo chips over to Balotelli, whose Scorpion Kick attempt is into Hart’s arms.
32′: CHANCE! England break, and Welbeck plays a nice one-two with Rooney before blazing just over the bar. Nice chance.
33′: Cassano has a pop from just outside the area, but it’s wide.
34′: Italy hogging possession at the moment, trying to lull England away from their breaks.
36′: Marchisio, Cassano and Bazlaretti play it around the right before centering for De Rossi, whose throughball attempt is cut out by Lescott.
37′: Ballotelli plays Cassano in, but Hart is equal to his dipping drive from just outside the area. Nice positioning and save by the Man City keeper.
38′: Montolivo tries to chip through Balotelli, but he trips under pressure from Lescott, and Hart claims.
39′: England attempt a break and then resort to playing it around midfield before Milner loses out to Balzaretti.
40′: Cassano gets a shot off after both he and Montolivo make nice work to retain, but it’s charged down. Pirlo crosses, and Cassano heads down to Balotelli, and Lescott clears away before Mario can get to it.
41′: Rooney fouls De Rossi about 25 yards out. England break from the freekick through Young, who plays Rooney down the left channel. His cross is easy for Bonucci to deal with.
42′: Balotelli has a go from range, over the bar.
43′: De Rossi plays to Balotelli down the left, but Mario hits his cross tamely to Hart.
45′: Pirlo attempts to drive forward, but the ref has seen enough and blows for half time.
HALF TIME: England 0-0 Italy No shortage of changes; England looking most dangerous on the break, but Italy possessing the technical advantage. Both teams playing much less disciplined than they did in the groups, which has made for some openings both ways, though England have done well to cancel Pirlo out. Even with no goals, there were plenty of fireworks, and the second half should be a thriller.
Teams are out for the second half. No changes for England. No changes for Italy. Rooney and Welbeck get us going. Milner plays a hard pass into Rooney, who can’t control.
46′: Milner gets some space down the right, but his low cross is behind his onrushing teammates.
47′: Abate bursts past Young, but Johnson heads away; Cassano wins a corner. Hart punches Prilo’s cross to Marchisio, who chips over for De Rossi in acres of space, but the Roma man fires wide. Nice chance for Italy.
48′: Rooney carves into the area before Abate slides in and clears for a corner. Gerrard’s delivery is easily away. and Milner fouls Balotelli on the resulting break.
50′: Back and forth possession, and Parker hacks down Pirlo near midfield.
51′: Italy with some wonderful play in midfield to release Abate, but Terry heads his cross.
52′: DOUBLE SAVE!!!! Marchisio has a go from long, which Hart palms down to Balotelli; Mario controls and shoots, but Hart saves, and the rebound breaks to Montolivo, who can only volley over. Down the other end, Milner has a go from distance, but it’s harmlessly wide.
54′: England break, but Gerrard stumbles over the entry pass from Rooney down the right, and the attack peters out to nothing.
55′: Pirlo plays a one-two with Cassano on the edge of the area before threading one to Abate that Lescott clears for a corner, which he then heads away.
57′: Some nice work from Italy to win the ball back, but Cassano overcooks his crosses, and Abate heads away, but clashes with Young. Both get treatment.
59′: Italy chip into Balotelli, who does well to chest down, kick up, and then unleash a gorgeous overhead half volley over the bar.
England changes: Carroll on, Welbeck off. Walcott on, Milner off.
62′: Pirlo chips to De Rossi down the right, who shins it over.
64′: Cross into Carroll, who mishits a scissored attempt into Abate. The ball bounces to Young, who fires off of Bonucci for a corner. Gerrard takes, but hits it over everyone. Terry could have a penalty claim
66′: Cassano plays it tamely out for a goal kick.
70′: Rooney plays to Walcott, who cuts back for Parker. Parker’s through ball attempt is overhit, and it’s a goal kick.
71′: Gerrard attempts to charge forward, but can only tamely kick it to Pirlo. And now the England captain is down receiving treatment for what looks like a calf strain.
73′: Stevie G soldiers on, as the Italians attempt to push forward. A bit of miscommunication as Balzaretti tries an entry pass, and Montolivo fouls Young.
74′: Montolivo has a go from 30, but Terry blocks. Marchisio then HAMMERS it into Terry’s thigh.
75′: Pirlo fouls Carroll at about 30 yards out centrally. Gerrard to take. . . Rooney gets a glancing header onto it, but Buffon grabs in front of his left post.
78′: Italian change: Cassano wins a throw out right, and comes off for Diamanti.
79′: From the throw, Marchisio gets a cross that Hart punches off the head of Balotelli for a corner. Diamanti’s stinging corner is palmed away by Hart.
Italian change: De Rossi off, Nocerino on.
80′: Pirlo and Abate exchange out right before Pirlo picks out Nocerino, who plays in Diamanti. Diamanti blasts from the D, but Hart claims.
82′: Rooney and Young interplay on the left before Rooney’s cross is cut out. Barzagli is booked for his slide over the ball.
84′: Gerrard’s freekick is over the England phalanx; Parker gets there and blasts into Balzaretti’s face.
88′: Marchisio plays in Nocerino, but Johnson with an excellent block for a corner, which is easily cleared.
90′: Italy change: Maggio on, Abate off
90+3: CHANCE! Young stands over before releasing Cole. His cross is headed centrally by Carroll, and Rooney pumps a bicycle kick over.
PEEP! end normal time, England 0-0 Italy.
91′: AND WE’RE OFF! England kick off.
92′: Carroll tries to break, but he’s slow, and so he ends up playing Bambi on Ice in losing possession back the other way.
93′: Pirlo spreads it for Maggio, and Italy switch it around, and then Nocerino fires over. Maggio is booked for his foul on Young, as Jordi Henderson prepares and England cringes.
Hodgson makes his final change, bringing on Jordan Henderson for the World War II Flying Ace Scott Parker.
94′: Gerrard’s freekick is miscontrolled by Terry, and Buffon is able to claim from the scramble.
96′: England try to break, but Rooney dithers in the area, and loses possession; on the ensuing long ball over the top, Balotelli stumbles.
97′: Hart hoofs it onto the chest of Carroll, who spreads wide for Young. Young crosses, but it’s Theo at the back post, and so Buffon easily claims.
98′: Balotelli tries from 30, but Terry deflects it tamely into Hart’s hands.
100′: Balotelli finds space between Lescott and Cole, but his shot lacks the pace to fool Hart.
101′: Diamanti’s cross from the right eludes his teammates but smacks into Hart’s right post. Unlucky.
104′: Italy bossing possession this half of ET.
105′: Rooney finds Young, and the ball ends up at Walcott in the area. Walcott’s chipped cross is met by Carroll, but he’s too far beyond the post, and Buffon clears.
Halftime Extra time England 0-0 Italy England starting to look ropey, but Italy just lacking that final ball. That said, Walcott almost recreated the third goal against Sweden at the death.
105′: Diamanti struggling after taking a Ric Flair from Young
106′: Pirlo plays in Marchisio, who released Diamanti down the right. Diamanti cuts in and blazes over from the right side of the area.
108′: Maggio earns a foul off of Young in the right channel. Diamanti’s freekick is headed away by Carroll o Pirlo, whose cross is cleared.
110′: Carroll bundles over Marchisio about 25 yards out. Pirlo and Balotelli stand over it, and Mario’s take is always rising into row Z.
112′: Pirlo plays to Marchisio who finds Barzagli wide. The left back’s cross finds Diamanti, who fires over.
114′: GOAL WAVED OFF!!!!!! Balotelli finds Diamanti on the right. Diamanti’s cross finds the head of Nocerino, but the Juve man is offside by a step. Heartbreaking stuff for Italy.
116′: Italy win a corner, but Diamanti cannot find an Azzuri head this time.
118′: Pirlo hits wide from range.
119′: Gerrard bundles Diamanti over on the right flank as Italy break.
120′: in the last act of the game, Marchisio fouls Rooney.
PENALTIES England 0-0 Italy Italy owned possession and position in the Extra Time periods, but couldn’t put England away without being offside. What a match, despite (or because of) the lack of goals.
Italy will take first, and it’s Balotelli. . . . . IN, bottom left corner, past Hart. 1-0.
Gerrard. . . IN 1-1.
Montolivo. . . WIDE! 1-1
Rooney. . IN! 1-2
Pirlo. . PANENKA! IN! 2-2
Young. . . OFF THE BAR! 2-2
Nocerino. . . IN PAST HART’S TIGER FACE! 3-2
Cole. . . SAVED!!!!!! 3-2
Diamanti! IN AND ITALY PROGRESS!!!
Fulltime. . .England 0-0 Italy (2-4 Penalties).
An absolute thriller, and England are out on, shock horror, penalities. The “coin flip” goes the way of the team that bossed the match. What a game, and thanks for joining me for it.