Italians ready for German challenge

 

Soccer: Italy coach Cesare Prandelli labelled Andrea Pirlo “a star” after the Juventus midfielder helped end England’s dreams of European Championship glory.

Pirlo, 33, was named as Uefa’s official man of the match after controlling the tempo of the game during a goalless 120 minutes and then scoring an audacious chipped spot-kick as Italy won 4-2 on penalties.

It was no less than Italy deserved after a superior performance, though they had to come from behind in the shootout after Riccardo Montolivo missed their second penalty.

“Penalties are a lottery but I thought we deserved victory in the end,” said Prandelli. “When Montolivo missed his penalty I was sad as he was one of the best players tonight. I was watching with my arm around my son and I told him he was lucky he didn’t have to buy a ticket.

“When Andrea Pirlo stepped up I was very calm — he’s a star and knew what he needed to do; and he did it. Around 80 per cent of penalty shoot-outs go down to luck. Some players are used to this kind of pressure, some are just calm in these situations — but mainly it’s down to good fortune."

Pirlo was not so sure about the "luck", it seems.

“At the moment I saw the goalkeeper making strange movements, so I waited for him to move and hit it like that," said the playmaker afterwards. “It was easier for me to chip it at that stage. Maybe my effort put some pressure on England and in fact Ashley Young missed the next one after me.

“I didn’t fear an upset, as England barely created anything, just tried to defend the result and drag us to penalties. We stayed in control and in the end won out. We knew that we could control the match, as England are a very defensive team and we saw that from the way they played throughout the group phase. It’s just a shame we took this long to beat them and used up a lot of energy.

“We dominated the encounter and it’s a pity we didn’t take our chances during the 90 minutes or extra time. At least the penalties sent the right team through."

Nor was Prandelli surprised.

"I knew we could control the game," he said. "My worry was that we were allowing England too much space on the break - we could have been a bit cleverer in our build-up play. We tried to play football. We tried to draw England out, we tried to hit them quickly. I think if we’d scored in the 90 minutes it would have been an even better game.”

Montolivo, who will depart Fiorentina for AC Milan when his contract expires this summer, was grateful to keeper Gianluigi Buffon, who saved Ashley Cole’s penalty after Young had hit the crossbar.

The 27-year-old said: “It was a great relief, especially for me. I felt terrible after missing my penalty, it was really a tough moment but fortunately it ended well — we are lucky to have a goalkeeper like Buffon. However, the victory was fully deserved, we attacked for most of the game and created many chances even if we were not able to convert them. Losing on penalties after this performance would have been cruel.

“I think we played well in all of our games so far in the tournament. Now we will face Germany, probably the best team with Spain, but we will be ready to challenge them. We don’t fear anybody, especially after a performance like tonight’s.”

His feelings were shared by Prandelli, who said: “We are delighted but we have to get ready for Germany now. They have had two more days’ rest (but) if we have the same approach, the same desire, I think we can compete.

“Germany and Spain are favourites here. We’ll need everyone fit and fresh; we’re going to go for it. They’re always attacking games against Germany. Germany are a great side — they made changes against Greece and it made no difference.

“The game here hasn’t long ended and we want to get our players fit — we just want to go home and get to bed, to be honest.”

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