Ukraine, Jun25: 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 Sunday.
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 on Monday.
“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 them 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.”
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 that secured a semifinal with Germany.
“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, you can't reproduce the nervousness and you can't reproduce 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 or coaching 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 on Sunday.
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 Sunday.
Italy also 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.”
It didn't help that Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker in England's midfield engine room were struggling with injuries.
Gerrard stayed on the pitch to score in the shootout despite struggling with cramp in his hip and calf. Parker was forced off early in extra time with a reoccurrence of an Achilles' injury.
“We had three very tough games before this one,” Hodgson said. “At least we go away unbeaten during normal time.”
England opened with a draw against France but beat Sweden and Ukraine to advance to the quarterfinals as group winners.
But that feat couldn't disguise tepid displays when they failed to keep hold and relied on ultra-defensive tactics.
While Rooney returned from suspension to clinch the victory over Ukraine in the final group match, the striker lacked sharpness against Italy, spurning several chances including an early header.
“We had lots of players out there running on empty, with very tired legs, fighting off cramp,” Hodgson said. “But they kept us in there until the end and when you go to penalties you do have a chance.”
Italy seized the chance.
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.