Immer, immer... Italien.

There was a vote on satellite channel ESPN for viewers to decide which match to show live: Germany-Italy or France-Brazil in Paris. The Germany game got the short straw and hence was shown after the France game finished (the French won 1-0 by the way).

In front of an enthusiastic crowd at Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park Westfalenstadion, Germany opened their 2011 calendar with a 1-1 draw against arch-rivals Italy – thus continuing a barren run where they have not beaten the Azzurri since a friendly in Zürich in 1995.

The match could best be described as a game of three thirds: during the first thirty minutes Jogi Löw’s side were more than impressive, with their slick passing game and energy resulting in their dominating the play against what looked like a game but toothless Italian outfit; the second third either side of half-time saw the men in blue come back into the game, and the last half an hour was to see the home side retreat into their shell and sit on their lead, inviting the opposition to throw everything at at them.

Things could not have started any better for the men in Schwarz und Weiß. With exactly fifteen minutes on the clock, Torhuter Manuel Neuer picks up the ball and hurls it out to the right, finding Thomas Müller. 15:08: a quick pass inside to Mesut Özil, who reaches the halfway line and plays the ball back to Real Madrid team-mate Sami Khedira to his left. 15:13.

Khedira looks up, and plays the ball out to the right and Lukas Podolski who is just inside the opposition half. Poldi advances a few metres before playing a return ball. 15:18. Khedira plays a short pass to the busy Özil, who is now in the middle of the Italian half. He taps the ball short to Müller, who draws in two markers before playing an easy short pass back to Khedira. 15:26. Khedira plays a horizontal return ball to Müller, who now has the space to find Phillip Lahm on the right touchline. 15:31. Lahm bursts forward towards the opposition box with purpose, but heading into a knot of three defenders switches away and plays the ball back to Bastian Schweinsteiger. 15:38.

Schweini looks up and finds Müller, who once again finds Lahm on the right. 15:44. The skipper plays a quick ball back to Müller, whose first-time pass finds Özil just outside the area. 15:48: the magic moment: Özil, with his back to the Italian goal, plays a memerisingly deft backheel to find Müller, who has continued his run into the Italian box. 15:50. Müller, who hasn’t scored for the Mannschaft since the World Cup finals, is now in space and has a clear sight of goal – but instead of pulling the trigger he draws in two defenders and plays a flat pass across to Miroslav Klose, who in typical fashion has ghosted into the box. A sweep of the right foot, a slight deflection off Italian ‘keeper Gianluigi Buffon, and the ball is in the back of the net. 15:53, and Germany have the lead.

Fifty-three seconds, seventeen passes, the ball shifted with both patience and panache from side of the pitch to the other; a sublime backheel, and unselfish final pass, a clinical finish. Und hergestellt in Deutschland. If this goal had been scored by the Argentinians or Brazilians, the commentator would have been having a heart attack. It’s Miro’s fifty-ninth goal in his 106th international – the man is a phenomenon.

Klose could easily have made it 2-0 within minutes: once again, the chance was created by Özil, whose pass sliced through a sea of blue to the advancing and ever-aware Klose, whose chipped shot was well parried by Buffon. The short passing game was now really clicking, and with twenty-two minutes gone Podolski had a crack from distance to see his shot go just wide.

As the clock went past the thirty-minute mark, the Italians were allowed to gather themselves and work their way back into the game; they were now starting to make more concerted forays into the German half. First they were unlucky not to get a penalty some two minutes before the break when Matia Cassani appeared to have been bundled over by Per Mertesacker, and not long aftwewards he was put through only to see his shot well blocked by Dennis Aogo. As the teams went in at half-time the Italians were looking increasingly dangerous, but nobody would have argued that Jogi Löw’s side deserved their lead.

The start of the second half saw the first change in personnel, with local boy Mario Götze coming on for Thomas Müller. This was arguably Jogi’s first real gaffe of the match: Müller had provided strength and energy and had been instrumental in the creation of Klose’s goal, and his replacement with a touch player – an Özil Mk. II – left something lacking in the midfield engine room. I had no objection to Götze coming on – after all, I named him in my own starting XI – but I would have brought him on for Poldi, who apart from his one bullet shot had looked a little anonymous. Meanwhile the Italians appeared to have pepped up their game, with sub Giuseppe Rossi looking particularly sharp. At the game reached the hour mark, both sides were still playing positively, though without making any real chances.

The final third of the match began with what I thought was a rather surprising substitution, with skipper Philipp Lahm being replaced by Jérôme Boateng. Did Jogi think the game was won with half an hour to go? Was Lahm injured? Either way, it was a curious decision at best: the skipper had delivered a flawless performance, had been heavily involved in the build-up to the goal, and had marshalled the defence superbly. Going off with Lahm was Holger Badstuber, who was replaced by Mats Hummels, another one of the young Dortmunders.

Within minutes of Lahm taking his position on the bench, the Germany defence was caught short by an Italian long ball which found substitute Marco Borriello free in space on the left – Germany’s right, where Lahm would have otherwise been. The Roma man collected the pass and exercised good control before lashing a left-footed shot on target – only to see Manuel Neuer pull off a magnificent save and turn the ball around his left post. From the resulting corner, Alberto Aquilani hit a shot narrowly wide. All of the sudden, things were starting to look shaky at the back for a Germany side that had looked rock-solid for the first hour. As for the Mannschaft, the best they could offer was a hit and hope attempt by Bastian Schweinsteiger that flew over the bar.

With a quarter of an hour to go Klose was replaced by Dortmund’s third substitute Kevin Großkreutz, which seemed to confirm thoughts that Löw was set on holding the lead – though in fairness with Mario Gómez having to withdraw with an injury sustained before kick-off there was no real like-for-like replacement available on the bench. The German side now appeared to withdraw into their shell, a tactic that only encouraged the Italians to press forward with increasing menace.

The last ten minutes had hardly begun when the inevitable happened. Out of nothing, Guiseppe Rossi had been put clean through by a pass that beat the offside trap. Rossi easily outwitted Boateng who appeared to have been left flat-footed, and held off Mertesacker to set himself up for a shot at goal. Neuer positioned himself to meet the shot brilliantly, but was left helpless as the rebound fell back into the path of Rossi who calmly stroked it into the back of the net. The energy and willingness to attack shown by the Italians had merited their equaliser, but to concede what was arguably a soft goal after with less than ten minutes to go was incredibly galling. It was simply a case of oh no, they’ve done it again. Immer, immer Italien. Always, always Italy.

Within minutes the magical Özil – who had made well over a hundred passes in the match – found Sami Khedira in space on the left; his shot was on target, but was easily met by Buffon. There were no real opportunities after that, and while both sides still moved forward with intent the match came to a close with the final score locked at one apiece. Overall it was a great game to watch, and one played in great spirit by two exciting-looking sides. Despite the disappointing result, it was a decent enough start to the year for Jogi’s Jungs.

The result means that Germany have now gone sixteen years without beating the Azzurri, and the Italian monkey remains firmly attached to their back. It will be eighteen years come the next meeting, which takes place in Italy in February 2013.

This was a game that should have been won – thirty minutes of brilliant play out of the complete ninety may be enough for the likes of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and even Turkey, but it was simply not good enough against an Italian side that was inferior in almost every department but more than made up for this deficit with their application, persistence and effort. I am sure I speak for every Germany fan when I say that I want to see the full ninety minutes in the next European Championship qualifier in Kaiserslautern against the Kazakhs – if it all clicks, we’ll hopefully see a massacre.

v Italy, Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 09.02.2011

1-1 (1-0)
Klose 16. / G. Rossi 81.

Team: Neuer – Lahm (c) (Boateng 64.), Mertesacker, Badstuber (Hummels 64.), Aogo – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller (Götze 46.), Özil, Podolski – Klose (Großkreutz 75.)

Referee: Eric Braamhaar (Netherlands)
Assistants: Arend Brink, Wilco Lobbert (Netherlands)
Fourth Official: Guido Winkmann (Germany)

Yellow Cards: – / Motta
Red Cards: – / –

Attempts on Target: 6 / 9
Attempts off Target: 5 / 4
Corners: 7 / 4
Fouls Committed: 15 / 13

Attendance: 60,196

Immer, immer… Italien.
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