"We're not going home!" was the chant that rang out from England fans on their way to the Olympic Stadium last night. But by the time the match reached its conclusion, long after midnight local time, that was exactly where they were headed, after the painfully predictable denouement of an unsuccessful penalty shoot-out.
For the sixth time since 1990, England lost on penalties, but as fans flocked to the exits at the end there was a sense more of quiet resignation than of the utter dejection that has accompanied penalty defeats at previous tournaments, given that this England side had already exceeded the very modest expectations fans had of it going into the tournament.
"At least we won't get hammered by Germany now," said one fan. "We gave it everything we could and were beaten by the better side. Though it would have been nice for us to scrape through a penalty shoot-out for once."
It was, again, just a small corner of Kiev's Olympic Stadium that was taken up with England fans, though they outnumbered the Italians, who were almost non-existent, and perhaps the loudest chant of the night was "Ooo-kraina" from the hosts.
While the ground was more or less full in the end, in another sign of the lower-than-usual interest this tournament has generated from fans across Europe, there were dozens of people outside the ground struggling to offload tickets for their face value of between £40 and £80.
Some England fans had been in Ukraine since the start of the tournament, while others had flown in for yesterday's match, having initially decided to skip the tournament. "After all the bad publicity about Ukraine and the cost of tickets and accommodation we decided we'd wait for the World Cup in 2014," said Simon Upton, 36, from London. "But after seeing the group stages and hearing how easy it was to get tickets, we thought we'd be stupid to miss it."
As the match went by with no sign of a goal, the boisterous corner of England fans got quieter and quieter and there was an atmosphere of eerie silence as the final whistle went and the game headed for extra time.
As if trying to distract themselves from the inevitable prospect of penalties, the England fans launched into their loudest period of the game, with chants of "Roy Hodgson's barmy army" echoing around the stadium.
As Italy were the first to miss in the shoot-out, there was a moment when it seemed England would make it through, but in the end, the natural order of things re-asserted itself.
After England's mix of determination and good fortune during the group stage, some fans dared to believe that the unthinkable might happen and this could be England's year. Thomas Marshall, 31, had flown in for the quarter- final and had placed a £250 bet on England to get past Italy. "If they had won, I was going to put all the winnings on them to beat Germany, and if they won that, I'd have had enough money to get to the final," he said. "I would have looked into getting to Warsaw as well. In reality I couldn't have seen them beating the Germans but who knows."
Such travel concerns are now irrelevant for England fans, and it is Italy who will take on Germany in the semi-final on Thursday in the Polish capital. The squad were due to fly back to Krakow last night, and then home today.Reuse content