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With England leading the penalty shootout 2-1 in their Euro 2012 quarterfinal against Italy, it seemed as if an unlikely upset was about to be pulled off. Italy had all but dominated the previous (and tedious) 120 minutes of play with 64 percent of possession and 35 shots on goal (20 on target) to England's nine (four on target). But once England limped in to the shootout, none of that mattered anymore. And after Riccardo Montolivo followed up Mario Balotelli's confident opening score with a miss wide, England were in control. Then Andrea Pirlo stepped up to the spot.
Not only did Pirlo make his attempt to keep Italy alive, but he did it with a Panenka (and similar to the original) so exquisite that it forced Joe Hart to dive, land on his butt and watch the ball float into his vacated net. This was not just a penalty, this was a mind game. You don't employ a Panenka when you're behind in a vital shootout on a big stage without careful consideration and a desire to influence not just that one moment, but every shot that would follow.
Ashley Young then pinged his shot off the crossbar and Ashley Cole had his shot saved by Gigi Buffon before Alessandro Diamanti finished off the comeback for Italy and put them in the semifinals and produced a very familiar end for England (they've been knocked out on penalties in six of the last 10 tournaments they've participated). Said Pirlo after the match (via Football Italia):
"At the moment I saw the goalkeeper making strange movements, so I waited for him to move and hit it like that.
"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."
With three Serie A titles and a World Cup victory (he was Man of the Match in the 2006 final) already, the 33-year-old midfielder's brilliance is already well documented and internationally revered. This was just a reminder that it's not just hyperbole and Joe Hart will probably never forget that.
Here's video of the shootout (Pirlo's shot is about 3:40 into the video)...