England bowed out of a major tournament on penalties once again after losing to Italy in Kiev following a 0-0 draw. There were plenty of talking points from the quarter-final and we pick out a few which had us reaching for the notebook.
Roy Hodgson stuck with the same XI which started the 1-0 win over Ukraine and he was rewarded with a promising opening 15 minutes. However, a lack of fresh legs became more apparent as the first half wore on as England struggled to attack with any great pace, and looked jaded chasing the Italians. The difference in fitness levels grew wider as the game wore on and England were out on their feet by the time penalties came around.
The Italy striker is known for his impudent finishes, skill and speed but against England he showed he had developed some game intelligence. Balotelli realised early on in this contest his Manchester City team-mate Joleon Lescott could match him for pace and power. So he sought to exploit John Terry's lack of pace by taking up positions between him and Glen Johnson in the old inside left position. It was a complete display of all-round centre-forward play and one that intimated Balotelli is evolving into a more complete striker.
England needed Carrick
Roy Hodgson got most things right at Euro 2012 with England this summer. He developed a sense of unity within the squad, made his substitutions seemingly at the right moments and got the required results. Yet, one thing he failed to do was find a place for Michael Carrick in his squad. The Manchester United midfielder reportedly told the Football Association a few months before the tournament he did not to be considered for the tournament, unless he would play a significant part. Egoistical? Perhaps. The inability of England to retain possession could have surely been helped by Carrick who is one of the best passers England possess. England needed a conductor in midfield. Carrick may not have the dynamism of Gerrard, or the aggression of Parker but as a midfield pivot, he surpasses both.
Penalty curse strikes again
We've been here so many times before and yet the feeling of disappointment still feels as acute as ever. Missed penalties from Ashley Young and Ashley Cole resulted in England tumbling out of the tournament. Perhaps England's players should ask Andrea Pirlo for tips who coolly chipped his penalty over Joe Hart. Now that's how you take a penalty.
Buffon's still got it
Gianluigi Buffon is widely regarded as the finest goalkeeper of his generation and many see England counterpart Joe Hart as the Italian's heir apparent. The 34-year-old, though, will not be passing on his mantle just yet after his superb reaction stop to deny Glen Johnson after five minutes proved his reflexes are as strong as ever, and he got down well to save Ashley Cole's penalty in the shoot-out.
Know your limitations
No-one would begrudge such a maverick talent as Balotelli attempting an overhead kick, but Andy Carroll's first meaningful contribution after being brought on was to attempt a left-footed, first-time overhead kick which only resulted in booting fresh air. Carroll would have been better advised to use his strength and height to knock the ball down in a more orthodox fashion. At least, I suppose, Rooney got contact on his injury-time overhead kick.
Aside from Johnson's early shot, England struggled to create chances from open play, with the crossing from wide by James Milner and Young poor. Set-pieces had proven profitable in the group phase for England and they again represented the likeliest source of a goal, with Gerrard's delicious delivery on 77 minutes deserving better than a misjudgement from Rooney.
The worth of having officials stationed near each goal was again brought into question when John Terry clearly had his shirt held twice in the second half. The second incident must have been right in the eyeline of the fifth official, so once again begging the question - what are they there for?
In the build-up to the game Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi described Steven Gerrard as his 'idol' and said he wished he could play like the England captain. His early volley, albeit with his left foot, bore the hallmarks of Gerrard and he displayed some of the attacking assertiveness that the Liverpool midfielder has foregone for England at Euro 2012 after taking up a deeper role.