Two hours of stubborn defence kept England’s heart hopeful in Kiev last night.
Today hope might lie in a heap but a dusting of pride should remain – England did not collapse. Steven Gerrard and John Terry held fast and the players and luck fell in behind them to deny the Italians the goals that seemed inevitable.
It all worked until the bitter, penalty end.
We followed the match commentary on BBC Radio 5 live as we travelled the Gatwick stretch of the M25.
The noise of the crowd pitched through the car as the commentators struggled to keep up with the pace of the opening moves. Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Daniele De Rossi attacked the English goal forcing the pace and England on to the defensive.
Then back came England sweeping a ball into the poised hands of the Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Perhaps it was at this point – with the ball in the hands of ‘superman’ Gigi Buffon – that the dream slowly started to shred. The team in white fought and guarded but could never quite scatter the blue defence that hemmed them in and charged them down. Tension and commentary slowly slipped their adrenalin.
The broadcast took on a new rhythm. It rang to the pulse of Italian names – Riccardo Monolivo, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Diamanti. The players seemed to bounce around the car – they claimed, they denied and always there was the everywhere Andrea Pirlo. Again and again they paced the ball away from the weary legs of Wayne Rooney and tested the reactions of John Terry and Steven Gerrard.
Somehow England clung on, forcing the game past Kiev’s midnight and to a penalty shoot-out.
The M25 ran eerily quiet as the teams lined up to face the net for the final few minutes. The commentators, hushed then frantic, covered the outcome.
It was the misses that did the intial damage – two to England and one to Italy. Next Andrea Pirlo stepped forward and delivered the perfect ball – a measured kick that pushed England’s goalkeeper, Joe Hart, into awkward air and Italy back toward the semi-finals.
Then Antonio Nocerino and Alessandro Diamanti drove two more balls past Joe Hart. As Italy reached 4 we heard the roar of Italian fans in Kiev.
The M25, under a slim moon, must have heard it too.