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Gavin HamiltonEngland are out and the inquest begins. Though the initial angst over penalties was inevitable, the long-term discussion needs to go deeper. The question should not be why do England keep losing on penalties, but why do England keep ending up in so many penalty shoot-outs. 

The simple fact is that England were not good enough to beat Italy over 120 minutes. Indeed, they were a very poor second. For Italy, you can substitute Portugal in 2004, Argentina in 1998 and Germany in 1996.

England are a quarter-final team and will be for the foreseeable future. That places England in the top 10 of Europe: a respectable but realistic place to be.

There’s is a fascinating observation about Andrea Pirlo in today’s Guardian from Graeme Le Saux, one of the more cerebral ex-pros and a member of the England side that lost on penalties to Argentina in 1998. He says that England’s players “must have been tempted to go straight over and give him a slap” after his Panenka-style penalty.

That says it all. Until English football can learn to celebrate skill rather than condemn it, we will have the same debate after every tournament.

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It’s hard to argue with the semi-final line-up of Euro 2012. Spain, Portugal, Germany and Italy are the best teams in this tournament – by some distance.

Groups B and D have produced all four semi-finalists, which calls into question the seeding system.

Co-hosts Poland and Ukraine were each given top spot in the draw – though a fat lot of good that did them, as both struggled to get out of their groups.

Surely, not having to qualify, as well as playing in front of your own fans, is advantage enough. Time to re-think the seeding system.

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England’s fans have now left Kiev and there were precious few cases of misbehaviour. That has been the pattern of the last decade, especially at tournaments that stretch the finances of the average fan.

About 10,000 England fans maintained a chorus of “Roy Hodgson’s Barmy Army” during extra time, but the atmosphere inside Kiev’s Olympic stadium  was strangely muted for much of the regular 90 minutes. It was more suited to a pre-season friendly than a quarter-final of the European Championship.

The low numbers of Italians contributed to the passive atmosphere, but the biggest problem was that the majority of the crowd were Ukrainian and neutral – hence the early Mexican wave which, thankfully, England fans refused to join. They seemed more interested in eating their popcorn than watching the football.

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Andrea Pirlo’s peerless performance for Italy against England has seen him being touted by the Italian press as a contender for the myriad player of the year awards. It’s all a little premature.

Although there is no denying his brilliance against England – and earlier in the tournament with his free-kick against Croatia – Italy would have to win Euro 2012 for Pirlo to be crowned the world’s best player.

That’s in much the same way Cristiano Ronaldo will be a clear favourite if he drags Portugal single-handedly to the Final. And Andres Iniesta would surely deserve recognition if Spain retain their title.

Of course, there’s the small matter of Lionel Messi’s 73 goals for Barcelona last season. Not to mention Didier Drogba’s role in Chelsea’s Champions League victory.

By Gavin Hamilton

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