A mid-week contest of equals, between the steady and the spectacular. Except for Gianluigi Buffon and Jens Lehmann, where the roles seem reversed, the analogy holds at almost levels as Germany and Italy run out on Borussia Dortmund’s home ground Tuesday night.
In his bright maroon shirt, Buffon has pulled off more saves than the land of catenaccio would care to remember. Against the Czechs, against Australia and even in the quarter-final. Buffon’s reflexes have kept Italy alive and it this been acknowledged by Marcello Lippi, Fabio Cannavaro and even Andriy Shevchenko.
“Playing against Buffon is like being a goal down,” the Ukrainian striker said in the mixed zone after the 0-3 defeat in Hamburg.
Lehmann wears faded blue and after early jitters settled down to a solid show till Roberto Ayala came along. Not for him the flamboyance of Buffon's split-second saves — at least not yet.
Like Buffon and Lehmann, Juergen Klinsmann and Marcello Lippi too are at opposite ends. With thick glasses and thicker silver hair, Lippi's exuberance has been tempered by age but Klinsmann, like Raymond Domenech, lives every moment of the match - maybe even longing to change into black shorts and the white mannschaft shirt.
Both have hauled traditional soccer powers from early century obscurity but done it in contrasting manners. Klinsmann accepted the job when no one was interested and overhauled a creaking system in his own way.
He handed the captain's armband to Michael Ballack, made Oliver Kahn his second-choice goalie, criticised the lack of pace in the Bundesliga and started building a young squad in whom he kept the faith through a string of ordinary results.
Unfazed by withering criticism, Klinsmann continued to develop the "German way of playing". He linked Miroslav Klose with Lukas Podolski, persisted with the partnership till they flowered against Sweden. Like he did with Per Mertesacker and Christoph Metzelder and the two, after Costa Rica, have defended like they were brought up together. Most importantly, he has restored Germany's faith in their football team.
Barring late bloomer Luca Toni, Lippi has more experienced players, a point made by Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin when he rued his lack of quality on the bench.
Football's Paul Newman, as Sir Alex Ferguson once said of him, Lippi has infused into this team some of the resolve that made Juventus such a capable side under him. He has retained predecessor Giovanni Trapattoni's nucleus - Buffon, Alessandro Nesta who is likely to be out again on Tuesday and Franseco Totti - but has infused the squad with a spirit that makes the Azzurri look different.
Marco Materazzi should return but unlike Germany for whom Ballack often falls back, Italy usually employ two playmakers in Andrea Pirlo and Totti or Alesandro del Piero. Again unlike Germany where Phillip Lahm, Arne Friedrich, Bernd Schneider and Bastian Schweinsteiger use the flanks, Italy don't often play on the wings. But whenever Fabio Grosso or Gianluca Zambrotta have moved up they have either scored or come very close to a goal so discount that threat only at your own peril.
Between them, this would be the 19th World Cup semi-final appearance. History favours Italy but Germany are making history. Thirty-two years after Dortmund witnessed a cracker between Total Football and Brazil, the stage is set for another riveting battle of contrasts.