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Italy ensures England suffers yet another heartbreak in a major tournament on PKs

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

England crashed out of Euro 2012 in familiar fashion Sunday to continue one of international soccer's most extraordinary jinxes.

For the sixth time in its last 10 international tournaments, England's demise came courtesy of penalty kicks, with Italy the beneficiary this time around to secure a semifinal spot.

Scoreless after 90 minutes of regulation and 30 more of extra time, England finally looked set to shatter the curse that had broken its collective hearts so often before, taking an early lead in the shootout.

But yet again fractured nerves, a dash of misfortune and an opponent's cool heads conspired to ensure the country who gave soccer to the world will have to wait even longer for its next major trophy.

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Ashley Cole's missed penalty kick vs. Italy was costly for England. (Getty Images)

A World Cup semifinal in 1990, a round of 16 clash in 1998 and a quarterfinal in 2006; a European Championships semifinal in 1996, a quarterfinal in 2004 and now this. It all bring memories of tortured times for England fans, moments when the unique pressure of soccer's most exhilarating yet cruel test of steel proved to be too much for one or more of the national team's representatives.

[Slideshow: Italy outlasts England to reach semis]

This time around it was Ashley Young and Ashley Cole who faltered from 12 yards. Young smashed his effort against the crossbar and Cole's low strike was comfortably saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Make no mistake, on the balance of play England did not deserve to progress to a semifinal contest with Germany. Flat out, Italy dominated possession and created the more meaningful chances.

However, just like when Chelsea produced a rearguard defensive fight to stymie Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, then prevailed on penalty kicks, it felt like England might be rewarded for its tenacity, despite the overall lack of imagination.

Riccardo Montolivo's miss with Italy's second kick enhanced that view, but Italy was perfect with its last three attempts, while England faltered.

Ahead of the quarterfinal, England captain Steven Gerrard had urged his teammates to "grasp the moment" but at no stage did they heed the message. Italy was allowed to control the ball seemingly at will, and only a combination of bad luck, poor finishing and some desperate tackles from England's back four kept the game scoreless.

For new England manager Roy Hodgson, the future is not necessarily bleak – he managed to take this limited team further than many expected despite having only been on the job less than two months. Still, he will need to instigate a more positive style moving forward in order to avoid criticism.

But whatever Hodgson manages during qualifying for the next World Cup, the reality is that England has another dose of penalty agony under its belt and another generation of the country's players has developed a complex from the spot.

More than 20 years from its first penalty nightmare, there is still no answer to the question of "Why is England so bad at penalties?" Some might argue mental weakness, others suggest poor technique, yet more blame the pressure imposed by the over-demanding English media and public.

Either way, the curse continues.

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For Italy, itself a victim of many penalty shootout losses, including the 1994 World Cup final and the quarterfinal of this tournament four years ago, victory was sweet. It will be a heavy underdog against Germany, the team that's stood out so far in this tournament, when the sides meet in Warsaw on Thursday, but neither can it be discounted.

Italy's key will be whether the defense can hold firm against the German attacking machine that has looked so smooth in its march to within two wins of the trophy. Italy prides itself on stout defense, yet this current incarnation lacks some qualities of its predecessors, even with the still-brilliant Gianluigi Buffon as the last line.

Italy would do well to consider that relying on a penalty shootout next time around may not be such a good idea.

Germany has not lost on penalty kicks since the final of the 1976 European Championships, and has a 93-percent success rate on attempts in shootouts.

Kind of the opposite of a curse.

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