Prandelli praises Italian character after shooutout victory over England
Cesare Prandelli praised Mario Balotelli's work rate and character and said Italy tried to play football after they overcame a host of missed chances to beat England in a penalty shootout on Sunday.
The doom-mongers said Italy's Euro 2012 quarter-final with England had 0-0 and penalties written all over it and although that is what transpired, the Azzurri deservedly progressed after looking fresher and more inventive.
England defended manfully - as they almost always do - but it is not enough in an international tournament and when Alessandro Diamanti's winning spot kick hit the back of the net, purists Europe-wide heaved a sigh of relief.
"All the forwards did a very good job tonight. It was difficult to create chances but we put our heart in it," the coach told a news conference after Italy secured a last four clash against Germany with a 4-2 win on spot-kicks following a 0-0 draw after extra time on Sunday.
"We had ideas, we wanted to play in nice little triangles, keep the ball high up on the pitch.
"We tried to play football, we tried to bring them out of their defence but they did not want to.
"It could have been more spectacular had we scored inside the 90 minutes."
Balotelli put a frustrating night behind him when he scored Italy's first penalty in the shootout, beating Manchester City team mate and England keeper Joe Hart low to his right.
"Mario came and said he wanted to take the first penalty.
"It means he has a lot of character. I think he was excellent," said Prandelli, who then hailed keeper Gianluigi Buffon who saved Ashley Cole's spot-kick in the shootout.
"He is reliable, all the great players at that moment are entirely focused on what they have to do technically, nothing disturbs them and Buffon was up for it.
"He knows he could turn the game around."
The best moment of the match came in the third round of penalties when Pirlo chipped the ball slowly straight into the middle of the net as Hart dived to his right.
"He was very calm indeed. He's an absolute star player who knows exactly what to do, and he did so," Prandelli said.
The deft move became popular in Euro 1976, when Czech Antonin Panenka beat German goalkeeper Sepp Maier in similar fashion in the final.
French great Zinedine Zidane also scored what has been sometimes dubbed a 'Panenka' in the 2006 World Cup final against Italy.
Even England manager Roy Hodgson was left to admire Pirlo's gem.
"The cool, calculated way Pirlo chipped it, that is something you have or you don't have as a player," he said.
Italy's penalty shootout record improved to three successes in eight at major tournaments while England have now won only one of seven.
But it was not penalty demons that did for England, it was the footballing gods who knew full well that Italy had deserved to win.