England captain Steven Gerrard admits his side have been left heartbroken after losing to Italy on penalties.

The Three Lions have now crashed out of six major international tournaments on penalties in the last 22 years, but Gerrard insists his side go home with their heads held high.

After qualifying top of Group D, England avoided tournament favourites Spain and booked a quarter-final tie against Cesare Prandelli's Italy, but an inspired performance from Andrea Pirlo meant that England were on the back foot for much of the match.

After a cagey 120 minutes of football, the match finished 0-0 and went to penalties. Despite an early miss from Ricardo Montolivo, Italy went through, winning 4-2 after Ashley Young hit the crossbar and Ashley Cole had his penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

And although England won praise for their grit and determination, Gerrard admits it's tough to go out of the tournament in such cruel fashion. "It still doesn't help the heartbreak," said the England skipper.

"I just feel for the players who, since day one when we met up, have given everything. I thought this time in a penalty shootout we might have had that bit of luck you need but it wasn't to be. We've done the country proud but, again, go home with heartbreak and it's tough to take."

The Liverpool and England captain enjoyed an excellent tournament, and was suffering from cramp after a taxing 120 minutes. But Gerrard stepped up to take England's first penalty and scored, along with Wayne Rooney, but misses from Young and Cole sent England home.

Despite a bright start from Roy Hodgson's side, Italy, and Pirlo in particular, controlled the pace of the match, and created the bulk of the chances. After victory on penalties in the World Cup final of 2006, Italy once again confidently dispatched their spot-kicks, and go on to face Germany in the semi-final on Thursday evening.

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