Both sides had failed to find the net in 120 minutes of play, though Italy had been unfortunate not to win it well before they prevailed 4-2 on penalties as England's Ashley Young and Ashley Cole failed to convert their spot-kicks.
It fell to Alessandro Diamanti to score the winning penalty and send the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ winners on to a semi-final with Germany - who were beaten by the Italians in the Germany 2006 semi-finals. Italy and Germany will meet in Warsaw on Thursday, while holders Spain are set to face Portugal in Donetsk a day prior on Wednesday.
While England had very little to offer in attack throughout the match their defence was magnificent in denying the Italians, for whom their ageless playmaker Andrea Pirlo ran the game.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said that penalties were a lottery, but insisted the better side had won. "We did the things we were supposed to do, but then we had some luck and we did well," he said. "When you have penalties anything can happen, but we really deserved it."
Despite the result England coach Roy Hodgson was justifiably proud of his players and could look back on his first campaign in charge with a lot of satisfaction. "I can't fault the players for their efforts, I thought we were quite magnificent. But by the end they were running on empty," Hodgson told BBC.
"We've gone out without being beaten, with our heads held high and making the country proud. Both Ashleys (Young and Cole) were knocking in the penalties in practice, but in reality practice doesn't translate into the real thing as you can't take into account energy levels that are run down, tired legs and minds. They got their bit of luck and it wasn't to be for us."
Hodgson, who has won over a lot of the critics here after they wondered why he had been chosen and not Harry Redknapp in May to replace Fabio Capello, who stood down earlier in the year, said he had no doubt England would move on from here.
"I'm sure we will get up among the top sides its only a matter of time if these players show the same determination that they have done so far. There are others to come in so it won't be long before we are up with the best and winning these sort of matches.
England captain Steven Gerrard was equally dejected. "The players have given everything," he told the BBC. "I thought we might have the luck in the penalty shoot-out, but it wasn't to be. The lads at the back were fantastic, we have done the country proud but we go home heartbroken and that is hard to take."