The Italian Sob

In the 1969 film ‘The Italian Job‘ a band of plucky Englishmen disguised as football fans steal a consignment of gold from the Italians. Roy Hodgson was hoping that his England side could pull off a similar heist by stealing a semi-final spot from under the noses of an average Italian side in Sunday Nights Euro 2012 Quarter Final.

In one respect the match did emulate the film, it ended in a cliff hanger. Famously the last line of the film is “Hang on a minute, lads, I’ve got a great idea!” However, there was no moment of inspiration forthcoming from any of England’s players and the match drifted away from Roy Hodgson’s men after a promising first half.

The second 45 minutes of the match was balanced like a van full of gold hanging over a cliff edge. The ageing Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo tipped the balance slightly in favour of the Azzurri after producing a sublime performance in the centre of the park. Chances did fall for a number of players but neither team could find a breakthrough.

Extra time couldn’t separate the two sides and it seems both teams were happy to take their chances in a penalty shoot-out, which was surprising as England have a terrible record when it comes to spot-kicks, Having lost six of the last seven in major tournaments – their only success coming against Spain in Euro ’96 (a 14% success rate).

As the players readied themselves for the spot-kicks English goalkeeper Joe Hart took the long walk from the centre circle to the goalmouth to face Manchester City teammate Mario Balotelli, the Italian slotted home in spite of Hart’s best efforts to put him off. However, England’s hopes were raised after Riccardo Montolivo missed the second penalty. Only to be dashed minutes afterwards when Ashley Young rifled his penalty against the crossbar.

The best penalty of the night was taken by the inspirational Pirlo who chipped his shot over the lunging feet of Hart. The Italians call this type of penalty a ‘Cucchiaio’ which roughly translates as ‘Spoon’. Pirlo claimed after the match that it was Hart’s efforts to put off the penalty takers that inspired him to place the ball down the middle. Adding “I saw that the goalkeeper was really fired up and I thought about doing that,” he said. “It was easier to shoot that way and it put a bit of pressure on the goalkeeper.”

Pirlo’s penalty was in marked contrast to Ashley Coles effort which was easily saved by Gianluigi Buffon, leaving Alessandro Diamanti, a refugee from West Ham to score the last kick that sent England out of Euro 2012.

Once again the TV cameras focused on England fans in tears after another heartbreaking exit – ‘The Italian Job’ turned into the Italian Sob for the 6000 travelling fans and 23 million watching back home. England losing on penalties has always been a cliche; worryingly it now seems a psychological barrier that we can’t overcome.

I always like to look on the bright side after defeats like this… at least it saved us from being ‘Merkeled’ by the Germans in the semi-final!