Euro 2012: Pirlo Show And Penalty Shootouts
So after 27 matches, we finally had a scoreless draw in Euro 2012 and unsurprisingly, England were one of the teams involved. It came down to the dreaded penalty shoot-out but even the most die-hard English supporter will admit that their team were hugely fortuitous to even take it that far.
For a game that started so brightly in the first 15 minutes, a goal seemed inevitable. De Rossi cracked a volley that hit the post in the 3rd minute and Glen Johnson was denied by the excellent reflexes of Gianluigi Buffon. It was a period of play typical of the Premier League, very ‘end-to-end’, to use a tired cliché.
But as soon as the adrenaline-fueled hustling died down, Pirlo took control. The master-passer effortlessly moved the ball around from the back, linking play with his midfielders, switching flanks, inviting England out, running with the ball when gaps opened and keeping an eye out for the movements of Balotelli and Cassano. His over-the-top-of-defense ball to Balotelli in the 25th minute was perfectly measured and if the wasteful fire-starter had not been so slow (as he has been all tournament), Italy would have been deservedly ahead.
Both teams settled down after 30 minutes – the Azzurri with the ball, the Three Lions without. Two banks of four became one bus of eight as England tried to stay in the game. It was more of the same in the second half, although Roy Hodgson did bring on Theo Walcott and Andy Carroll in the 60th minute. While Carroll was the obvious target man, Theo was completely invisible as his team-mates were not too keen to use him as an outlet on the right and Theo himself did not make too many forward runs, possibly under instructions not to be too adventurous.
There’s no denying that England were totally outplayed over the 120 minutes. There’s also no denying that their defensive tactics were not effective – the Italians shot 27 times in 90 mins (36 times over 120 mins) and it was only some good last-ditch defending by the back line and poor finishing by the Azzurri that kept them in the game.
So it did go to penalties. And when Montolivo missed Italy’s second kick, it seemed England were going to benefit from another dollop of good fortune. But the luck ran out this time as both Ashleys were unsuccessful – Young hitting the bar and Cole shooting tamely to allow Buffon to make a simple save.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the evening was Andrea Pirlo’s ‘panenka’ chip. For those unaware, have a look at the original here. And of course, our very own Robin van Persie did this against Wolves recently. It was a fitting tribute by Pirlo to himself – the Juventus man was a different class to any other player on the pitch.
From an Arsenal perspective, it was disappointing not to see Theo start. With Italy playing a diamond formation in midfield, there was plenty of space on the flanks to exploit – so much space that even James Milner was allowed to deliver a couple of decent crosses from the byline. Theo would have enjoyed running at the Italian back-four in that helter-skelter opening 20 minutes. There was always a doubt on whether Roy would use Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in a big game. By the time 90 minutes were up, it was fairly clear England were playing for penalties so the Ox’s involvement was always doubtful as long as the score stayed 0-0.
As an Arsenal fan, I am relieved Theo Walcott was not given penalty-taking duties. All the focus is currently on England’s poor performance in the 120 minutes but if Theo had missed one, he would have made a fine scapegoat for the scavenging pundits in the English media.
There will be debate about Roy Hodgson’s tactics. I still feel this 4-4-2 is not the best counter-attacking strategy even with England’s lack of technical ability. On the other hand, Roy had very little time to set the team up for the tournament and was unfortunate with injuries. Going forward though, English fans will be hoping he develops a system that tries to take control of the game and not rely merely on good fortune. Wilshere’s return, Ox’s maturity and Rooney’s fitness will be key for England in World Cup qualifying.
So the only remaining Arsenal interest in the competition is with Germany, Mertesacker and Podolski the two Gunners still in the tournament. On current form, there’s all likelihood both will return to the Emirates with the winner’s medal around their neck.