Italy turns on the style in win over England
By ANDREW DAMPF
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) Italian football has long been known as overly tactical and defensive, while the English game is characterized by its long balls and constant attacking.
Sunday's European Championship quarterfinal turned the table on that generalization.
While in the end, the match was decided only by a penalty shootout, Italy produced an overwhelming majority of the opportunities over the 120 minutes with 35 attempts on goal to England's nine and 20 shots on target to the Three Lions' miserable four. The Azzurri hit the post twice.
As Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said afterward, Serie A clubs should learn a lesson from this match.
"Coaches need to start playing football more, and not just look for results," Prandelli said. "There are two years of work behind this and I think this is the future of football. In terms of quality, we're not lacking anything to anyone.
"I knew we could control the match. The only thing I was worried about was conceding counterattacks," Prandelli said. "We did well to construct our opportunities, and closing down their counterattacks quickly really helped, too."
After a 0-0 draw, Italy won 4-2 on penalties.
England coach Roy Hodgson, who learned his defensive tactics by managing Inter Milan and Udinese in Italy, called shootouts pure luck.
"Penalties are 80 percent luck, but then there are certain players who make fewer mistakes than others. They have a certain coolness in those situations," Prandelli said.
Prandelli was referring to players like Andrea Pirlo, the midfield maestro who fooled England goalkeeper Joe Hart with a softly struck spot kick in the shootout. And goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who smothered Ashley Cole's effort to set up the winning strike from Alessandro Diamanti.
"Champions are reliable and they focus on the technical task at hand, without letting themselves get disturbed," Prandelli said. "(Buffon) has an extraordinary amount of skill and he was very motivated tonight. He knew he could obtain a result like this."
Unpredictable forward Mario Balotelli wasted chance after chance during the 120 minutes, but he, too, was cool under pressure at the end, converting the first attempt of the shootout.
"He played 120 minutes and I thought he had a great match," Prandelli said. "He created chances, and sure there were mistakes but that's OK. He showed character. When a player feels prepared to begin a shootout, that means he has personality."
While it has four World Cup titles, Italy has won the Euros just once, back in 1968. The last time the Azzurri reached the semifinals came at Euro 2000, when they lost the final to France following David Trezeguet's golden goal.
Italy next faces Germany on Thursday in Warsaw.
"Right now this is a huge satisfaction, but we need to recuperate our strength and injured players now," Prandelli said.
Both key midfielder Daniele De Rossi and fullback Ignazio Abate left the England match with muscle problems, while defender Giorgio Chiellini injured his hamstring in the final Group C match with Ireland and did not play Sunday.
"Germany is the tournament favorite along with Spain," Prandelli said. "To win, we need to get our injured players back. But I have some ideas. We're going to challenge them."
If the England match was any indication, Italy will attack Germany from start to finish. The days of Italy's notorious "catenaccio" lockdown defense are gone.
Updated June 24, 2012