After 90 minutes of scoreless football in Kiev, England and Italy played two additional 15-minute periods of scoreless football. Italy had possession for 68% of those two hours, and had taken 36 shots (8 on goal) to England's 9 shots (1 on goal). Italy passed better, attacked better, and looked much crisper than England. Despite looking so much better than England, Italy simply could not score. England's goal keeper, Joe Hart, played great, as did the Three Lions' defense. Two hours of dominant play got thrown out for Italy as the match moved to penalty kicks.
When Riccardo Montolivo missed Italy's second penalty attempt, I thought England had lucked out the win. Instead, Ashley Long's penalty kick for England hit the crossbar. Gianluigi Buffon made the sole goal-keeper save of the penalty-kick session when he stopped England's fourth kick by Ashley Cole. Italy had the victory with a 4-2 penalty kick score.
Imagine how difficult it is for a goal keeper during penalty kicks. The ball is kicked from just 11 meters (12 yards) out. A hard-kicked ball may leave the kicker's boot at roughly 30 m/s (67 mph), though penalty kickers may opt to bring speed down to improve accuracy. Andrea Pirlo's penalty kick for Italy was quite slow and down the middle, which fooled Joe Hart. For all the advanced study of penalty-kick tendencies, luck plays a major role. A ball kicked at nearly 30 m/s will reach one of the upper corners of the goal in about 0.4 seconds. That's the same time it takes for a Major-League fastball to reach home plate after the pitcher lets go of it. Studies in human reaction time suggest that eye-hand reactions take place on the order of 0.20 seconds, whereas eye-leg reactions need nearly twice that time. In short, if a goal keeper stands in the center of the goal and simply reacts to a penalty kick, there is no way to stop the kick. The goal keeper must guess ahead of time. Gianluigi Buffon made a great guess on Ashley Long's kick.
Italy moves on to face Germany in the semifinals. Italy will need to finish much better against the Germans compared to how they did against England.