Pelle seals sweetest of Italy wins
on their way. Except it did not work out like that. All too soon they were chasing the game, relying more than ever on Hodgson’s tactical genius.
Although whatever that was, it did not seem to involve getting Sterling particularly wide. The one time he did do, in the 27th minute, Charlton’s Johann Gudmundsson scurried across and knocked it out for a goal-kick off Sterling’s shins – the sort of everyday manoeuvre he will be performing in League One next season.
Standing on the far side with his hand half-raised, Sterling looked more like he wanted
SPORT IN BRIEF
permission to be excused than to take this tournament by the scruff of the neck. When the ball did meander its way left, his first instinct was to cut inside where that blue wall was waiting to knock him back. The second half started no better – his first touch seeing him trying to nutmeg three Iceland players. At times his decision-making was as hard to fathom as Hodgson’s, a question mark that has always hung over him since he burst on the Premier League scene as a 17-year-old with Liverpool. Yes, he is quick and yes, he has energy – the UEFA stats at half-time suggested he covered more distance than most of his peers.
But what was needed last night was some spark of intelligence. Hodgson’s initial selection was devoid of it – at least he had the wisdom to recognise his mistake and put Sterling out of his misery on the hour by replacing him with Jamie Vardy.
As with Brexit, Sterling will one day recover. He is a genuinely exciting talent. But at least England’s final dilemma for 2016 – should Hodgson stay? – is a disappointingly straightforward one. THEY say revenge is a dish best served cold, and this was as cold as ice from Italy.
Knocked out of the last two Euros by Spain, who thrashed them 4-0 in the final four years ago, the Italians got their own back in style.
Giorgio Chiellini stabbed them in front in the 33rd minute and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle smashed in a second in stoppage time.
It was enough to send Italy through to meet Germany in the last eight.
Antonio Conte’s well-organised outfit simply snuffed out and showed the greater hunger against a sluggish Spanish side who could not get out of first gear.
Until Pelle’s strike Spain were still in the game thanks to the heroics of a one-man wall, Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea.
But Conte’s side got what they deserved, partly thanks to a superb late save from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, one of five Italians on show who started the 2012 final.
Conte, who will take over at Chelsea at the end of the tournament, jumped on the dug-out in celebration when Pelle’s goal went in.
And Chiellini, another veteran of 2012, said: “I always thought that before I ended my career with the national team I would get my own back on Spain, who have made me suffer so much over the years.
“Perhaps we had something in us and we had to end it after all those defeats against them. Now our tournament can begin against the world champions.”
Spain were lucky to get to half-time only
1-0 down as the Italians utterly dominated the first half and deservedly went in front.
De Gea had already denied Pelle with a fingertip save, watched Emanuele Giaccherini hit the post and seen Marco Parolo head a great chance wide before he was finally beaten.
Eder powered in a free-kick through a gap in the wall created by two Italians peeling away, and De Gea could only push it back out into the danger zone.
Giaccherini nipped in quickly to poke the ball free, and Chiellini pounced to stab it over the line as the Italy bench erupted in celebration.
De Gea then made a brilliant stop from Giaccherini before denying Eder at the start of the second half when the Italian was clean through on goal.
As Italy tired, Andres Iniesta and Gerard Pique had long-range shots well saved by Buffon, who then made a miraculous stop to deny Pique again in the 90th minute.
But Pelle removed all doubt with a stoppage-time volley after substitute Matteo Darmian’s cross deflected nicely to him off Sergio Ramos.
ITALY: Booked: Goals: