KIEV - It was a bad evening for those in an English jersey named Ashley.
Just when it appeared England were on the verge of going through to the last four of Euro 2012, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole both failed to covert their penalties, much to the chagrin of the thousands of leather-lunged English supporters in attendance.
That opened the door for the Italians, who thrust the dagger into the hearts of England when Italy's Alessandro Diamanti drilled the winner past goalie Joe Hart, helping the euphoric Azzurri to a 4-2 win from the spot following a goalless 120-minute quarterfinal on Sunday at Kiev’s Olympic Stadium.
The Italians now go on to face the high-flying Germans in one of the tournament semifinals on Thursday in Warsaw. Spain meets Portugal in the other semifinal one day earlier in Donetsk.
England? They go home, wondering all the while what might have been.
“I’m not going to apologize for anything,” England manager Roy Hodgson said. “Ashley Cole and Ashley Young have both had success in penalties in the past. You’ve all seen that.”
Truth be told, it was a match that Italy controlled for much of the evening. The Azzurri had 64 percent of the ball possession and had plenty of opportunities to win the game, only to be squandered by both English goalie Joe Hart and some erratic shooting.
“I’m proud of how we played,” Italian manager Cesare Prandelli said.
With the score knotted at 0-0 heading into penalties, Prandelli put his arm around his son as the players prepared to shoot.
“I said to him that he was lucky he didn’t have to pay for a ticket to watch this,” Prandelli told the boy.
Five minutes later, father and son were in each other’s arms celebrating a victory along with the entire Azzurri squad and millions of Italians across the globe.
Of course, the lingering question becomes: Is it really fair to decide games through penalties?
While neither manager would make such a bold statement, both feel penalties have nothing to do with the game itself.
“Eighty percent of penalties are luck,” Prandelli said.
In the case of England, a nation that has a history of coming out on the wrong end of penalty shootout, their luck simply ran out.
It was a game that started with a roar.
And ended with a snore.
The Italians almost stunned the capacity crowd jammed into Kiev’s massive Olympic Stadium by coming close to opening the scoring just three minutes in.
The author of the near-score was Italy’s Daniele De Rossi, whose curling rocket from outside the box cleanly beat Hart, but not the post.
Just minutes later, England’s Glen Johnson found himself just two metres from the Italian net staring Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon directly in the eyes. But Buffon didn’t flinch, making an incredible hand save to keep the score knotted at 0-0.
English striker Wayne Rooney seemed rusty in just his second game back after missing England’s first two matches of the tournament due to suspension. In fact, with time running out, Rooney had an outstanding chance to score the winner in extra time only to have his bicycle kick go sailing over the bar.
That was one of the few chances for either side down the stretch. For a match that started off so electrifying, it had lost its bite by the end, a trend that didn’t escape Irish golfer Rory McIlroy.
Tweeted McIlroy during the break before the two 15-minute extra-time halves: “Another 30 minutes of this ... Might turn over to bowling, might be more entertaining!! I’ll turn back over for the penalties.”
Good call Rory. The only thing you missed was an Italian goal in the 114th minute that was called back because it was offside.
Cue the nightmare for the Ashleys.