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EUROPE > Penalty curse haunts England again

KIEV, Ukraine - The Associated Press

England bows out of another major tournament with penalty shootouts repeating its notorious performance in the deciding spot-kicks of the game. The Euro 2012 defeat to Italy marked England’s sixth defeats in seven tournaments after attacker Ashley Young and left back Ashley Cole missed their shots

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Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saves the deciding penalty kick by England left back Ashley Cole during the two teams’ Euro 2012 quarterfinal. The final score of 4-2 in penalty shootouts added to a long list of dramatic English defeats in big tournaments. REUTERS photo

Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon saves the deciding penalty kick by England left back Ashley Cole during the two teams’ Euro 2012 quarterfinal. The final score of 4-2 in penalty shootouts added to a long list of dramatic English defeats in big tournaments. REUTERS photo

It was the same old penalties heartache for England. This time, though, there was no hard-luck story to accompany the loss.

Defeat by Italy in the European Championship quarterfinals made it six losses in seven tournament shootouts as England’s curse struck again on June 24.

Outclassed and outplayed comprehensively by Italy, Roy Hodgson’s side clung on to a 0-0 draw. But in Kiev, there were no near misses, no decisions by the referee to bemoan, just a timid display from a weary team.

And one that’s going home yesterday.

“We might have to accept that we weren’t quite good enough to win it over 120 minutes,” Hodgson said. “Penalties is the same road we have been down before.”

The only victory when England players have been put on the spot from 12 yards (meters) came in the Euro ’96 quarterfinals against Spain.

The English penalty jinx started in the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup against West Germany and the unified Germans ousted its rivals at the same stage in Euro ’96. Argentina was the shootout victor in the second round at the 1998 World Cup, and Portugal ousted England at the quarterfinals at both Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

“It’s obviously a hard way to go out,” England striker Wayne Rooney said. “And it’s maybe happened too many times now.”

Ashes to ashes

How different it might have been in Kiev as Sunday turned to Monday.

Rooney put England 2-1 in front in the shootout after Riccardo Montolivo missed his penalty.

But England’s dreams soon ended up in ashes. Both Ashley Young and Ashley Cole failed to score as the Italians converted their penalties, allowing Alessandro Diamanti to net the decisive kick.

“The two Ashleys are strong enough lads to come back from this and the lads will be with them,” winger Theo Walcott said.

Cole scored in Chelsea’s Champions League-winning shootout last month, but couldn’t reproduce such accuracy for his country.

“Penalty-taking has become a bit of an obsession for us, and those players have done extremely well,” Hodgson said. “But you can’t reproduce the tension, the nervousness and the occasion (in training).

The sort of, cool, calculated way that (Andrea) Pirlo had the confidence and chipped the goalkeeper is something you either have as a player or you don’t. There is no amount of training that can teach a player that.

“We saw Ashley Cole take a penalty in the Champions League final. We have seen Ashley Young convert penalties for Manchester United and Watford. We were confident we had five very good penalty takers. Unfortunately two missed.”

England’s tourist board made light of more shootout misery on Twitter, writing: “England lose on penalties. For more on our culture and traditions go to visitengland.com.”

But any culture of playing football was largely lost on Hodgson’s side.

One statistic exposed England’s anxieties in front of goal.

The Italians produced 20 shots on target - one more than England managed in all four Euro 2012 matches, with only five coming in the quarterfinal. Italy had 64 percent of possession and a pass completion rate of 81 percent compared with England’s 61.

“I don’t begrudge Italy their victory but I thought for long periods of time it was an interesting tactical battle,” Hodgson said. “When we got into one or two good occasions, we didn’t do as well as we could.”

But just reaching the quarterfinals could be considered a success for a side Hodgson only took charge of last month following Fabio Capello’s resignation in February.

June/26/2012

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