came after a match that, despite no goals after 120 minutes of play, including the two extra 15 minute halves of added time, had great pace with many chances at goal, especially by the Italians.
England: Failure again in penalty-shootout
The inevitable shoot-out came along, however, something English fans were dreading given their nation has lost five shoot-outs at major tournaments, including three at the World Cup. England, whose only shoot-out win came over Spain at the 1996 Euro Cup, were up 2-1 in penalty kicks after the first two rounds, with captain Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney converting and Italy's Montolivo missing wide.
But the two Ashleys, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole, missed consecutively, Young blasting the crossbar and Cole's shot saved by Italy's keeper, Gianluigi Buffon, and Italy kept scoring, with Diamanti striking the final nail in the English Euro 2012 coffin.
"We can go out with our head held high but it does not help the heartbreak," Gerrard said. "I feel for the players as they have given absolutely everything today. I thought this time we might have a little bit of luck but it was not to be."
England and Italy start with promise
The match started with excitement, from the outset managing to bring supporters for both sides to their feet in expectation of a goal for, and cringing in terror of one against. Italy had two chances in the first 3 minutes, Balotelli being stopped by Joe Hart right off the top and then De Rossi's cracker of a volley hitting the post to the keeper's right. In the 5th minute England had a close-in chance, with Glen Johnson's blast thwarted by Buffon's left hand.
Italy managed 20 shots on goal without being rewarded, while England had 4. There was a 21st shot on the net, by Nocerino, an Italian substitute, near the end of extra time and he headed it high into the net; the goal was called back, however, as he was clearly off-side. Nocerino later scored Italy's third goal in the penalty shoot-out to erase any memory of his near-miss.
England's shoot-out history full of loss
England's crippling heartbreaks in shoot-outs include a loss in Italy in the 1990 World Cup in a semi-final versus Germany. Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle each missed there, while at the 1998 World Cup in France in the quarter-finals against Argentina, Paul Ince and David Batty failed.
In the 2006 World Cup Portugal beat England in a shootout, with Owen Hargreaves scoring but Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher all missing; Carragher's was especially painful, as he stepped up to the ball and scored - only to have to re-kick for failing to wait for the whistle. It was Portugal winning over England again in the quarter-finals of the 2004 Euro Cup, when Darius Vassell and David Beckham missed.
On this day England's manager, Roy Hodgson, in his first major tournament at the helm, put the loss down to fatigue. "The five takers we have are very good ones," Hodgson told the media. "We have been doing it in training and Ashley Cole and Ashley Young have been smashing them in on a regular basis.
"But you can’t reproduce the tired legs, you can’t reproduce the pressure, you can’t reproduce the nervous tension. (The Italians) stood up to it better than we did."