Balotelli testing his club colleagues Joleon Lescott at centre-back and goalkeeper Joe Hart.
It was a similar story in the second half, although Rooney almost snatched victory against the statistics in the second minute of injury time. When Cole's cross was nodded back into the middle by Andy Carroll, on as a substitute for Welbeck, Rooney's overhead kick flew over the bar.
The key incident in the extra half-hour was a close-range 'goal' by Italy substitute Antonio Nocerino rightly being disallowed for offside. Hence the deadlock remained and not for the first time in a major tournament, England's fate would be decided by a penalty shoot-out.
Balotelli beat Hart and Steven Gerrard converted past Buffon with similar spot-kicks to open the shoot-out. Then Riccardo Montolivo missed for Italy and Rooney confidently put England 2-1 up after two penalties apiece, firing to the left as the keeper dived the wrong way. Pirlo coolly clipped Italy's third spot-kick over Hart and when Young hit the bar, it meant the scores were level at 2-2. Nocerino stuttered but then slotted home to make it 3-2 to Italy. The advantage remained with the Azzurri when Cole's tame effort was easily saved by Buffon and Italy duly capitalised when Diamante scored.
United defender Rio Ferdinand had sympathy for the England players who lost in his absence. After watching the match he tweeted: "Wow, out on penalties again. Gutted for the lads." He also commented on the man who made Italy tick: "Pirlo just put on a pure footballing master class + the penalty was too much."