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Italy eliminates England on penalty kicks

KIEV, Ukraine -- After two hours of clever, often dominating but in the end fruitless play, Italy found the answer against England: penalty kicks.

Alessandro Diamanti scored the deciding goal yesterday to send Italy through to the European Championship semifinals with a 4-2 win in the shootout following a 0-0 tie with England.

Italy will play Germany in the semifinals Thursday in Warsaw, Poland. Defending champion Spain plays Portugal on Wednesday in Donetsk, Ukraine.

"We deserved this victory," Diamanti said. "The penalties rewarded our dominance during the match. It's only fair, we played a great match and battled from the first to the last minute."

But not until penalty kicks by Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo -- with an audacious slow chip-shot down the middle of the goal -- and Antonio Nocerino did the Azzurri find the net.

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney scored England's penalties.

The difference: Ashley Young hit the crossbar with England's third, and Ashley Cole's attempt was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

The match ended 0-0 after 120 minutes. The Italians twice hit the post and also were let down by poor composure in front of the net.

For England, it was yet another exit from a major tournament in the quarterfinals after a penalty shootout. England lost to Portugal in the same manner at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.

"It's obviously a hard way to go out," England striker Rooney said. "And it's maybe happened too many times now."

England briefly led the shootout after Riccardo Montolivo missed Italy's second penalty. His shot went wide of Joe Hart's right post as the England goalkeeper guessed correctly.

Rooney then sent Buffon the wrong way, firing in his spot kick to the keeper's right to give England a 2-1 lead. The momentum shifted after Pirlo's bold piece of skill leveled it at 2.

"I just saw that the goalkeeper was moving a bit earlier, so I decided to play it the other way," Pirlo said. "It just comes to you at that moment and it went well."

Not for England.

"We have done the country proud, but again we go home with heartbreak and it's difficult to take," said Gerrard, who played in both previous shootout losses.

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