England were denied a place in the UEFA Euro 2012 semi-finals as they suffered a heartbreaking defeat by Italy on penalties.
The Italians had controlled large parts of the match in Kiev, with Andrea Pirlo imperious in the middle of the pitch and Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli a constant threat.
But England’s stubborn defending meant Italy were unable to break through as the match was taken to extra-time and then penalties.
Italy hit the woodwork twice, with Daniele de Rossi’s outrageous sliced shot coming off the inside of Joe Hart’s post in the very early stages and Alessandro Diamanti’s miss-hit cross also hitting the post in the first-half of injury time.
England did have a spell in the first half of normal time when they were able to threaten but Liverpool defender Glen Johnson had his lifted shot saved while Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney’s diving header glanced over.
Di Rossi had a fine chance at the beginning of the second half but he scuffed wide from close range and Riccardo Montolivo then fired over the bar after pouncing on a loose ball when Hart parried Balotelli’s shot.
England were heroic in defence and they were forced to hang on again in extra-time as Italy continued to threaten Hart’s goal.
English hearts were firmly in mouths right at the end of the second period of extra-time when Antonio Nocerino headed into the roof of the net only for the goal to be correctly ruled out for offside.
And so to the penalty shoot-outs, and after Balotelli and Steven Gerrard scored with the opening two spot kicks, Montolivo missed his kick by dragging the ball wide.
Rooney’s penalty put England in control but after Pirlo scored with an audacious chip down the centre of the goal, Ashley Young and Ashley Cole both missed as successful penalties from Nocerino and Diamanti sparked Italian celebrations.
Italy now play Germany in the semi-finals in Warsaw on Thursday.