England fans had seen this all before, of course. In 2006 against Portugal, they also led in a shoot-out but threw away the advantage and were taken down by a familiar face from the Premier League. It happened again in Kiev on Sunday night as Roy Hodgson’s men tumbled out of Euro 2012, but this time it was not Cristiano Ronaldo who struck the winning effort. Instead, it was the more unlikely figure of Alessandro Diamanti.
The trequartista has taken a rather irregular route to the top, not making his Serie A debut until the age of 24, but he has made it all the same. And his penalty winner in only his third ever appearance for Italy has got a whole country dreaming of a return to the top of the international game, six years after shocking everyone to claim a fourth world title.
Some of football’s strongest minds have turned to mush 12 yards from goal in huge international fixtures, but the 29-year-old is made of tough stuff. He has had to be during a career notable for its momentary peaks and lengthy troughs. But his strike into the bottom corner at the Olympic Stadium marked a personal high which he could yet better as Italy head for the semi-finals.
|DIAMANTI THE JOURNEYMAN
Florentia Viola [loan] (2003)
Diamanti spent years fulfilling the role of the typical Italian journeyman. Spells in every tier between Serie B and Serie D were enjoyed, but he never really got into his stride until dropping back down to Serie C2 side Prato in early 2006. A couple of weeks before the Azzurri got their successful World Cup campaign underway, Diamanti was helping his local side avoid the drop to the fifth division by drawing both legs of a relegation play-off.
He had a decent left foot on him, but this did not necessarily look like a career that was going places until, in 2007, Livorno gave him his first shot at Serie A on the reccomendation of former Inter defender Fabio Galante, who was now a mainstay of the Amaranto defence.
Though Diamanti saw regular game time early on, the club struggled, and by the time he really hit his stride, relegation was inevitable. A couple of stunning goals, most notably a 30-yard winner against Catania, came in vain, but the forward did not allow it to stunt his growth as a player.
In Serie B the following season he really found his feet. He would score one of the goals in the play-off final against Brescia to cap off a campaign memorable in Tuscany for the way in which he and Francesco Tavano led the club from the front. As a fantasista, he was really becoming a key part of the team, and it was a great loss to the club when he was snapped up by West Ham United the following August.
His €6 million signing was the brainchild of Hammers technical director Gianluca Nani, but Diamanti’s lack of pace was always going to leave him at a disadvantage in the fast and furious Premier League. However, his excellent ability on the ball and from set-pieces was to win him many fans in east London. Perhaps his most memorable moment came from the penalty spot against Liverpool when he slipped at the point of contact and ended up scoring thanks to a deflection off his standing leg. That bizarre moment summed up the impression he made on English fans. He was a character, but not a keeper.
After a year in England, he returned to Italy with newly-promoted Brescia, where he would again be an occasional bright spot in a struggling side. He earned a national call-up for the friendly against Romania in Klagenfurt, but for a long time it appeared he would be a one-cap wonder as the Rondinelle headed back into Serie B. Diamanti was snapped up by Bologna though, and his form in 2011-12, including seven goals and six assists, was good enough for Cesare Prandelli to call him up to his Euro 2012 squad.
While some doubted the wisdom of his inclusion, many pointed to his ability to convince in the trequartista role as a huge positive. After two years of struggling to find the right man to fill the spot in his 4-3-1-2, Prandelli had finally turned to one of the few true exponents of the art remaining at the top level. Truth being told, it was partly a ‘needs must’ inclusion.
While Thiago Motta and Riccardo Montolivo have struggled to convert from their more natural midfield habitat, and Antonio Cassano continues to be a better striker than a playmaker, Diamanti remains a rare creative diamond in the rough of modern football. It is that which saw him given the nod by Prandelli ahead of the Euros, and also got him a couple of breaks at the right time on his way up the footballing ladder.
Hard work and raw ability have taken Diamanti to the top, and while his Premier League stint may have been fleeting, he has ensured that his name will not be forgotten to English football fans in a hurry.