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The epic battle of Warsaw

Considering the two nations have such notable tournament records, the fact that Germany have never beaten Italy at the finals of a World Cup or Euro comes as a surprise, Paul Wilson writes. Match box

sports Updated: Jun 28, 2012 18:22 IST
Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
Hindustan Times
Paul Wilson,World Cup,Euro

Considering the two nations have such notable tournament records, the fact that Germany have never beaten Italy at the finals of a World Cup or Euro comes as a surprise.

Yet, if Germany are ever going to break the sequence the time is surely now. Joachim Löw's young team have been the best to watch at the tournament to date, winning all four of their games to extend a remarkable winning run to 15 matches.

The Germans are in the last four for the fourth time in a row, having reached the semifinal or better in every tournament since 2006, and appear to be improving all the time, with a high-tempo passing game based on the driving midfield trio of Sami Khedira, Bastian Schwein-steiger and Mesut Ozil.

Schweinsteiger was around in 2006, along with Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, but the rest are new. Then again, so is most of Italy's.

Of the team that beat France in the 2006 World Cup final, only Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo survive, though it is perhaps significant that the Italian system is still the same, with Pirlo providing most of the ideas and the passing inspiration.

Pirlo's Panenka-style penalty was exquisite, yet his passing cannot have been that effective if Italy were unable to rumble England's feeble plan of taking the game to a shootout and hoping for some luck.

Based on their displays so far in this tournament, it would have been hard to imagine the Germans going two hours without scoring against England.

Unlike Germany this Italy side have not so far found goals easy to come by.

Striking poser
Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale have a goal each but Cesare Prandelli seems to be having trouble deciding which pair he ought to use up front, since no one has proved quite as adept as had been hoped at reading Pirlo's intentions and benefiting from his carefully-timed through balls. If anything, the Germans have the opposite problem. They create chances in abundance yet are sometimes less than clinical in taking them. Against Greece, that did not matter. Against Italy, it might, though at least Löw can bring Mario Gomez back into the front line for the semi if he wishes. Italy have had three days' rest since their victory over England, which is something Prandelli has been saying all through the tournament is vital. He admitted after fairly ordinary performances against Croatia and Ireland that his team tired easily and tended to fade after an hour, although England were never sufficiently in the game to see if this was a weakness that could be exploited.

Too close to call
Properly prepared and younger than most teams at the tournament, Germany will want to find space on the pitch in which to run and attack; Italy will prefer to keep things tight. There may not be a lot of goals in the game, it is a semifinal after all.

But though the Italians may have a slight edge in defence, where the Germans have occasionally been sloppy, it appears that in this tournament at least, the perennial underdogs have more attacking bite.

It seems strange referring to Germany as underdogs, especially in a European competition, yet even with the confidence they have demonstrated so far they are bound to be uncomfortably aware of their record against Italy as they go into the match. It could be a classic contest, it could be a dour one. But looking at the tournament, rather than the historical record, or either team's reputation and supposed playing style, this seems a contest Germany can win.

First Published: Jun 28, 2012 00:53 IST