Will the Italians triumph once again?

Offshore drilling, Euro 2012: Italy 0 (4-2 on kicks), England 0

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Man of the Match: The week off must have done him good, because Andrea Pirlo looked anything but a old, tiring playmaker. The 33-year-old midfielder gave his best performance of the tournament, and although none of this efforts bore fruit, it wasn’t for a lack of quality. His diagonal passes from deep midfield defined Italy’s play in their attacking phase, while long passes from his own half frequently made England’s high defensive line look misguided.

NBC Sports: Italy beats England in shootout in quarterfinal

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Remember all the doom and gloom I conjured before the match? For half the match, they looked utterly idiotic, the teams giving us the tournament’s best game. The second half of the match (the last hour) was pretty terrible. We got our dramatic ending, but boy did we have to sit through a lot of England passivity before we got it.
  • Formation paralysis: 3-5-2? 4-3-1-2? 4-4-2? 1-2-3-2-1-1-1? Italy’s formation was the talking point coming into the match. Would they start four at the back? And would Mario Balotelli return to the starting XI? Yes to both of those questions.
    • Balotelli returned to the lineup after being benched for Ireland while
    • Leonardo Bonucci and Ricardo Montolivo got starts for the injured Giorgio Chiellini and the reportedly hobbled Thiago Motta.
  • England started strong. That ponderous team that seemed reluctant to attack through group stage? They didn’t show up until later. At the onset, England attacked decisively, their best chance coming when Glen Johnson ran through the middle of the box and onto a James Milner cross. It should have been a goal, but Johnson overran the pass, let the ball get caught in his feet, and ended up pushing a shot at Gianluigi Buffon.
  • It was the second goal scare of the match. In the third minute, out of nowhere, Montolivo spun a ball from 25-yards into Joe Hart’s right post.
  • After  being on the back foot for 15 minutes, Italy starting coming into the match. They took another 10 minutes to assert themselves, but over the first half’s final 20 minutes, they were the better side.
  • By then, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, who had been so diligently monitoring Andrea Pirlo at the beginning, were giving the Italian regista more room. Part of that may have been Italian adjustments. Throughout the tournament, Pirlo had been the main provider for Antonio Cassano, who’d been the team’s driving force in the final third. In the first half, Italy had better success playing directly to Cassano and then, after the defense collapsed, playing back to Pirlo, who could then target Italian attackers.
  • Once that was established, the game opened up for Italy, who had a much more direct presence about them when the halftime whistle blew. Going into the locker rooms, Italy had held 60 percent of the match’s possession.
  • No changes in the second half meant Italy could pick up where they left off. Soon, Pirlo was picking up the ball deep, playing as he would against a team that had no intention of stopping him. This led to a number of long balls played over the top for Balotelli, the striker’s speed constantly beating England’s curiously high line.
  • Over the half’s first eight minutes, Italy missed three great chances. Daniele de Rossi was delivered a sitter on the second ball in from a corner. Balotelli couldn’t covert a ball blocked in front of goal by Hart, while Montolivo was a step too slow getting to the rebound of Balotelli’s shot.
  • Hodgson had to make the first move, though judging by the timing, there was no “had to” about it, in his mind. At the hour mark, Andy Carroll and Theo Walcott came on for Danny Welbeck and James Milner, substitutions that seemed planned prior to kickoff. Both players had done good work, particularly Milner, who gave his best performance of the tournament. If that substitution was pre-ordained, Hodgson should have reconsidered.
  • Carroll nearly paid off within six minutes, backing Andrea Barzagli down to the edge of the six before knocking down a ball for Ashley Young. It was England’s best chance since the fifth minute, but Young scuffed it wide.
  • Still, England had a slightly better presence in the match after the changes, perhaps spurring Cesare Prandelli’s first changes. Antonio Cassano, playing 18 minutes more than his customary hour, gave way for Alessandro Diamanti. One minute later, Antonio Nocerino came on for De Rossi.
  • It wasn’t long until Italy regained control of the match, dominating possession as England started playing like a team that was either conserving their energy or coming to grips with their status as second best. Were they playing for extra time? Penalties? Hodgson’s subs had fail to restore England’s drive.
  • Just before full time, Claudio Marchisio chipped a ball over the defense for Nocerino, whose fine first touch set up a volley from 13 yards. Glen Johnson (also putting in his best match of the tournament) tracked the run and got a foot to the shot.
  • England’s entire defense played well, as did Joe Hart. The high line was a problem, but that was the coach’s tactic. Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker were strong in midfield, but up top, Rooney gave another performance covered in rust. England would have probably been better without him.
  • England had a final chance before full time, a Rooney overhead kick sent into the stands, but after 90 minutes, the match had started to become what we’d expected: Lots of Italy possession; England not really caring; few good chances. Where England’s speed, six, strength and athleticism had given Italy problems in the first half, they neglected to use those qualities in the second. Instead, they sat deep, waited, hoping for something to happen, just as they’d done against France and Ukraine.
  • Thirty extra minutes were useless. Italy controlled extra time, generating a slew of half chances and a Nocerino goal that was called off for offside. England provided the periodic scare. It wasn’t much different than we saw over the last 30 minutes of regulation. Italy were clearly the better side but lacked the know how in the final third to take it.
  • Bemoan penalty kicks if you want, but they’re better than a coin flip. At least they test a few soccer skills. They were also the only way this match was going to end. Without them, these teams would still be playing, and after two hours of seeing England siphon off their own will, this one needed to end.
  • The kicks:
    • Italy went first and chose Mario Balotelli. Hesitating before hitting it, Balotelli nuzzled it into the lower left corner. 1-0, Italy.
    • Steven Gerrard went first for England and hit it in the same spot. 1-1.
    • Ricardo Montolivo was next and, trying for the same spot, pulled it wide, leaving it 1-1.
    • Wayne Rooney went high and into the middle of goal, he put the Three Lions up 2-1.
    • Andrea Pirlo was third for Italy, putting a beautifully “cheeky chip” into the middle of goal as Joe Hart dove left. 2-2.
    • Ashley Young was next and had a chance to restore England’s lead, but his high shot into the middle of goal nailed the crossbar. 2-2.
    • Antonio Nocerino showed Hart right and went left, putting Italy up 3-2.
    • Ashley Cole, a constant in his teams’ shootouts, was fourth for England. He went right and saw his shot swallowed up by Buffon, giving Italy a chance to close it out with their fourth kick.
    • Alessandro Diamanti, who flamed out at West Ham two years ago, got the chance to put Italy into the semifinals. Again Hart went right, and again the shot went left. Italy won the shootout, 4-2.
  • England fans will lament their country’s poor luck in penalty shootouts, but it’s difficult to have too much sympathy for a team that put no effort into winning the match. Except for the game’s first 15 minutes, Italy were clearly the better side, finishing with 64 percent possession and almost all of the dangerous moments. They played like semifinalists. England didn’t.
  • More numbers: Total shots: 35-9, Italy; Totals on target: 20-4, Italy. They’re Barcelona-esque numbers, even if the performance’s style wasn’t very Barça at all. England let them dominate.
  • And after two hours, it seems like a very English performance. Solid at the back with a certain strength and athleticism throughout their team, England had little else. They lacked the tactical nous to break the Italians.
  • And for Italy, it was a very Italian performance. This week, Buffon mentioned Italy has always kept matches close. This was no different, though not for lack of trying. Italy was the better team throughout, and although they go into the semifinals having only beaten Ireland, they are still in the final four.
  • Next up is Germany, a team that has the tactical nous to complement their speed and technical quality. The Azzurri will be decided underdogs, but starting to embody the spirit of champions’ past, anything seems possible.

ProSoccerTalk is doing its best to keep you up to date on what’s going on in Poland and Ukraine. Check out the site’s Euro 2012 page and look at the site’s previews, predictions, and coverage of all the events defining UEFA’s championship.

La Liga & Serie A: Ramos rescues draw in Clasico, Juve rolls

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid CF heads the ball towards goal and scores his team's first goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou stadium on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea handles City; Spurs, Arsenal each score five ]

Barcelona 1-1 Real MadridRECAP

It was nearly the end of Real’s lengthy unbeaten streak, but then Sergio Ramos stepped up with his noggin to give the visitors a share of the points at the Camp Nou. The veteran Spanish defender headed home the equalizer in second-half stoppage time to give Real a draw against its bitter rival.

Barcelona took the lead on 53 minutes when Luis Suarez headed home a Neymar free kick from the left wing. The result keeps both sides in place as the league’s top two teams, with Real holding a six-point advantage at the summit.

Granada 2-1 Sevilla

On a day where the league’s top two sides settled for a draw in El Clasico, Sevilla suffered a massive blow on the road against one of La Liga’s struggling sides. Granada earned its first win of 2016 after goals from Andreas Pereira and David Lomban propelled the hosts past Sevilla.

Wissam Ben Yedder netted a late finish for the visitors in second-half stoppage time, however, it wasn’t enough for Sevilla to pull out a result. Granada remains in the relegation zone on eight points, while Sevilla holds its third-place standing following the loss.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-0 Villareal
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Espanyol

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Eibar — 10:15 a.m. ET
Alaves vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sporting Gijon vs. Osasuna — 12:30 p.m. ET
Valencia vs. Malaga — 2:45 p.m. ET


Juventus 3-1 Atalanta

Alex Sandro and Daniele Rugani got Juventus out to a flying start in the first half, and it was Mario Mandzukic who finished the day off for the hosts. Juventus remains atop Serie A following Saturday’s convincing win over Atalanta, while the visitors remain in fifth place in Italy’s top flight.

Remo Freuler provided consolation for the away side in the 82nd minute after finishing off Marco D’Alessandro cross, which was Atalanta’s second shot on target during the match.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

AC Milan vs. Crotone — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Roma — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Pescara vs. Cagliari — 9 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET

Metz-Lyon match stopped after keeper Lopes injured by firecracker

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02:  Anthony Lopes of Olympique Lyonnais kicks the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Stadium on November 2, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was taken to the hospital after being hit by a firecracker during the team’s Ligue 1 match against Metz on Saturday.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea handles Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

The match was stopped in the first half when Lopes was struck by a firecracker in the 31st minute, before the game was ultimately abandoned due to the lack of safety conditions.

Metz was leading the match 1-0 at the time of stoppage, however, Lyon could be awarded the 3-0 victory pending a decision from France’s governing body.

Here’s the official statement released by Lyon:

“The public authorities in Metz took the decision to stop the match between FC Metz and Olympique Lyonnais indefinitely, in agreement with the match delegate and the referee, following the incidents that took place at the half-hour point of the game,” French football’s governing body, the LFP, said in a statement.

“A report will be sent to the LFP’s Disciplinary Commission. The LFP regrets these incidents and will be uncompromising in its continued review of this report.”

Strong pressure helped ease Gunners to five-goal performance

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Arsenal continues to apply pressure at the top of the Premier League, and Saturday’s performance at the London Stadium showed just how dangerous the Gunners can be away from home.

[ MORE: Chelsea makes it 8 in a row; Arsenal, Spurs combine for 10 goals ]

The Gunners took advantage of several West Ham mistakes on the afternoon, including a first-half turnover that sent Alexis Sanchez into the penalty area before setting up a simply tap-in finish for Mesut Ozil.

[ MORE: Carroll says Arsenal can “punish mistakes” instantly ]

Arsene Wenger‘s side went on to score four more times in Arsenal’s 5-1 rout against the Hammers, and Frenchman suggested post match that much of his team’s success was due to their willingness to high press and force West Ham into mistakes.

“I think overall we had a strong team performance for 90 minutes with very few weak periods,” Wenger said. “There’s only one regret that we didn’t take our chances in the first half and that it was 1-0 up at halftime and how it plays on the mind when you can play for that.

“But we maintained the pressure on West Ham and overall we finished in a really strong way. We were always dangerous because we won it quickly back. When we were on the breaks because we we always looked patiently to make the difference.”

Sanchez led the Gunners on the day with a hat-trick, bringing his goal total on the season up to 11. The Chilean has largely helped Arsenal become one of the PL’s most dangerous attacks, with the Gunners having scored the most goals in England’s top flight through 14 matches (33).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

When asked about the prospect of putting up big score lines on a consistent basis, Wenger said that while every game possesses different challenges he is quite pleased with Arsenal’s road form this season.

“I think every game gives you a different problem,” Wenger said. “But at the moment it looks we score more goals away from home than at home. Is that because your opponent comes a bit more out? Is that because you play with a bit more freedom?

“That will be interesting to analyze that. Do we play with a block that is less deep away from home? If you look at our results away from home they’ve been very convincing.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

As Wenger noted, the Gunners have done very well notching goals away from the Emirates Stadium in 2016. In seven away matches thus far in PL play, Arsenal has tallied 18 goals on the road in comparison to the team’s 15 at home.

PL Saturday roundup: Chelsea routs Manchester City; Spurs put up five

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Chelsea players applaud supporters after their 3-1 win in the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s side continues its recent path of destruction atop the Premier League, while the rest of England looks to keep up with the Blues.

Chelsea battled back in the second half on Saturday to defeat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to extend the club’s PL unbeaten streak to eight matches.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Elsewhere, Tottenham notched five goals in their rout of Swansea City, while Arsenal comfortably handled West Ham United at the London Stadium.

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea — RECAP

Eight straight victories have Chelsea atop the PL, and the biggest now becomes: who will be the club that stops Conte’s Blues? An unlikely own goal from Gary Cahill gave the Citizens the lead on the stroke of halftime, but a thunderous comeback from the visitors helped give Chelsea three points at the Etihad. Goals from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard rung throughout Manchester in the second stanza, however, Costa’s exit from the match will surely be monitored by the Blues.

Additionally, City will play shorthanded moving forward after Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho picked up red cards during a late scuffle that ensuing following the Argentine’s rash tackle on David Luiz.

Tottenham 5-0 Swansea City — RECAP

Spurs couldn’t have drawn it up better following last week’s disappointment at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham received great contributions from Harry Kane and Christian Erikson, who each netted braces on the day, while Heung-Ming Son delivered a stunning acrobatic effort to help the hosts rout Bob Bradley‘s team. The Swans sit bottom of the PL table on nine points and have conceded 31 times in their opening 14 matches.

West Ham 1-5 Arsenal — RECAP

The Gunners had no troubles with West Ham on Saturday as Arsene Wenger‘s side moved up to second place behind a five-spot from one of the PL’s top attacks. Alexis Sanchez paced the Gunners with a hat-trick, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil also scored for the visitors at the London Stadium. Andy Carroll provided the lone moment of consolation for West Ham after Dimitri Payet‘s free kick smacked off the crossbar and onto the head of the Englishman.

Crystal Palace 3-0 Southampton — RECAP

Fraser Forster put the Saints behind in the first half after a tremendous mistake in front of his own net, leaving Christian Benteke with one of the easiest finishes he’ll ever have. The former Liverpool striker added a second and James Tompkins also got in on the scoring for the Eagles as Alan Pardew‘s men snapped a six-match losing streak.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Leicester player Andy King (c) reacts as Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes a last minute save to deny Leicester a draw during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP

Jermain Defoe continues to be the talisman for the Black Cats, however, Sunderland’s good fortunes began off of a Robert Huth own goal. The Foxes pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through Shinji Okazaki but Leicester continued its struggles on Saturday with its seventh loss of the campaign. Sunderland has now won three of its last four matches, bringing David Moyes‘ side up to 18th in the table.

West Brom 3-1 Watford —  RECAP

Tony Pulis‘ side has quietly made some noise in 2016, and while West Brom likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like feat this season the Baggies currently find themselves in sixth place as the halfway point nears. Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt netted in the first half for the hosts before Matt Phillips scored late to ensure all three points would go in favor of the Baggies. Despite nabbing a goal in the second half, Watford’s chances of picking out a result were halted when Roberto Pereyra was sent off.

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley — RECAP

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa helped propel Stoke up ninth place on Saturday with their victory at the Brittania Stadium. For Muniesa, the goal marked his first in the PL. Burnley drops to 14th place following the loss, and the Clarets sit just three points above the relegation zone.