Penalty pain for England once more

England went out of Euro 2012 in the way they have come to dread – a penalty shootout. England had defended resiliently and occasionally desperately for two hours against a dominant Italian side, but eventually succumbed in the spot-kick showdown.

The two Ashleys, Young and Cole, were the culprits, as exhaustion caught up with England’s players. They hadn’t deserved to win a quarter-final marked by the magisterial possession and distribution of Italy’s Andrea Pirlo, but can take consolation in knowing they performed better than had been expected before the tournament.

Manager Roy Hodgson was characteristically reasonable and level-headed in assessing the match. "I've been delighted with the players, and the way they've responded to the demands of an England shirt," he said. "They're bitterly disappointed they couldn't take it one step further, but they've shown they're capable of stepping up to the plate. We've got good young players coming through and this has been important for them."

Hodgson is all too aware of England’s miserable records in shootouts. Although his players practiced penalties in training, he knew it wasn’t the same. "You can't reproduce the tension, the occasion, the nervousness."

The gulf between the teams was exemplified by the way Young nervously blasted his kick against the crossbar, while Pirlo gently dinked his shot into the net. "That sort of cool, calculated way that Pirlo had the confidence to chip the goalkeeper . . . you either have that as a player or you don't," Hodgson said, "and no amount of coaching or training will help reproduce that."

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