By JOHN BOSCHINI
Penalty shootouts are notoriously unfair but in the end justice was served as Italy are through to the semifinals.
A scoreless 120 minutes was dominated by the Italians as England's torrid time in shootouts continues and sends the Three Lions home in the quarterfinals. Alessandro Diamanti cooly slotted home the winning penalty after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missed England's final two spot kicks. Riccardo Montolivo missed Italy's second penalty to give England a brief advantage.
The 120 minutes, while scoreless, was littered with chances. Any talk that this would be a defensive and boring quarterfinal was dismissed within the first five minutes as both teams came close to opening the scoring. Daniele De Rossi's swerving volley from 30 yards out beat Joe Hart but came off the inside of the post in the third minute.
Glen Johnson nearly gave England the lead just two minutes later when he received a pass in the center of the box but the ball got caught under the defender's feet and Johnson's scoop shot was palmed away by Gianluigi Buffon.
For the next 10 minutes England were in the ascendancy and should have taken the lead in the 15th minute but Wayne Rooney's diving header went over the crossbar. Eventually Italy retook control for the remainder of the half. Andrea Pirlo beat England's offside trap in the 32nd minute to find Mario Balotelli in alone on goal but the striker took too much time and John Terry was able to scramble back and block the shot. Balotelli was denied another gilt-edged chance when Joleon Lescott came out of nowhere to send Cassano's cross over his own crossbar.
The second half was a continuation of the first with England squandering possession and Italy wasting chance after chance. De Rossi somehow avoided putting Italy in the lead when a poor clearance from England allowed Claudio Marchisio to head back into the box. De Rossi found himself three yards away from goal with the ball at this feet but somehow shot wide.
Hart failed to hold a wicked Marchisio shot and the rebound fell to Balotelli in the 52nd minute. Balotelli's shot was well saved by Hart's knees and Montolivo sent his shot just over the bar. Balotelli continued to harass England's goal and his overhead kick was barely over the bar.
Italy continued to dominate but England nearly stole the result with a chance at the death. A counterattack led by substitute Theo Walcott found Ashley Cole down the left flank. Cole picked out Andy Carroll, who headed back across goal but Rooney's acrobatic overhead kick flew over the bar and the game went to extra time.
Both teams were obviously fatigued heading into the extra period. Neither team provided many chances as England sat deep and prayed for penalties. Antonio Nocerino's header was in the back of the net three minutes from time but he was correctly whistled offside.
England got off to a fast start in the penalty shootout with Gerrard and Rooney converting. Balotelli beat Manchester City teammate Hart before Montolivo sent his kick wide. Pirlo kept Italy alive with a soft chip into the center of the net. Young and Cole's misses dropped England to a 1-7 record in penalty kick shootout.
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