Honour in defeat as England suffer Italian tactical masterclass
Published: 25.06.12 / Written by: David Gold
England's defeat to Italy had a familiar theme. Penalty shoot out failure.
It was an intriguing match, despite there being no goals, and one in which England looked initially to be competing well in. Roy Hodgson’s men came out with force and gusto, closing Italy down and restricting them early on as they pressed in search of a crucial goal.
Despite good pressure and some good football, they failed to make the breakthrough, and after 20 minutes Italy took control. England launched an attack, then Andrea Pirlo picked the ball up, deep in his own half, strode forward unchallenged and sent a long pass into the path of Mario Balotelli, who was clean through on goal. That was a warning sign which England heeded. They dropped deeper in a bid to prevent Balotelli and Antonio Cassano having space to run on to long through balls.
That though, played right into Italian hands. England dropping deeper meant their attacking impetus was lost. Playing deep meant that they were not pushing on anymore, and it also led to Pirlo getting a huge amount of space. Pirlo played on the edge of the centre circle for most of the game, an area the midfield vacated. Before England dropped deep, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck had been closest to the midfield maestro. Rooney was meant to stifle him by dropping back to help the midfield. As the midfield dropped back, Rooney did not, whilst Daniele de Rossi often came back to the defensive midfield area, and full backs Federico Balzaretti and Christian Abate pushed forward. This had the effect of giving Pirlo space, and allowing Balzaretti and Abate to get forward, cause England problems and force back their full backs, Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole.
It should not be a surprise that clear chances became rarer as the game went on, as England essentially retreated to stop Italy’s menacing passes, whilst Hodgson’s side’s defensive mentality meant opportunities for them to score were limited.
Ultimately this was a brilliant tactical performance from Italy. They were happy with England coming onto them, as their limited creativity meant that for all the pressure they had few really clear chances to score, and Pirlo could then find their forwards on the counter attack. They were also happy for England to then retreat defensively, as it gave them control of the game, in particular Pirlo.
Ultimately though England have exited the competition with dignity. This was not a particularly talented side, and they have won a group including co-hosts Ukraine, a tough Sweden side and France, before holding a good Italy team and taking them to penalties. They have over performed for their quality. Hodgson has much work to do to make England into a team who can win a trophy, but at least they have shown some spirit and organisation. They have also shown an ability to pass better going forward, but England must find a better balance between attack and defence in future tournaments. They played for lady luck to shine on them during penalties. And as usual, where shoot outs are concerned, that does not work for England.