The Italian Job

When the last eight teams slotted into place and Germany then beat Greece to make the semi-finals, we all knew a classic encounter would be coming up next. We would either see England – a team that has provided a number of exciting and memorable encounters over the years – or Italy, the historical bogey side, banana skin, or whatever else we might wish to call them.

When Alessandro Diamanti swept home the winning penalty to take the Azzurri into this next chapter of the great Germany-Italy footballing rivalry, the statisticians soon started chattering and their calculators cranked into life. Seven competitive matches: no wins, four draws, three defeats. Either it would be a case of “same old”, or history would have to be undone.

I have no real time for historical records like this. They are interesting from a purely statistical perspective, but that’s about as far as it goes. While five of the current German squad (Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger) were in Dortmund for the last painful encounter between the two sides at the World Cup in 2006, that match is little more than a televisual memory for the remaining eighteen players. As for the defeat before that in 1982, only one of the current squad would have even been alive then – a very young Miroslav Klose, who would have just celebrated his fourth birthday.

To this young side, the events of 1970, 1982 and 2006 are but historical footnotes.

These records are also there to be broken, and this tournament has already seen two similar series of results come to an end. Prior to their recent 3-2 win in Kyiv, England had never beaten Sweden in a competitive international – a series that stretched to seven games and included five draws and two defeats. Likewise, current World and European Champions Spain had failed to beat neighbours France in six previous competitive matches – losing five of them – but finally overcame this statistical horror with their easy 2-0 quarter-final victory. There’s no good reason why Germany shouldn’t be able to overcome Italy – they are the better team right now, and a match played thirty years ago has as much meaning as the recent 5-3 defeat in Switzerland.

The Italians have arrived in the last four in typical fashion, winning only one match and scoring a paltry four goals. After an encouraging 1-1 draw with Spain they found themselves having to keep out a bouyant Croatian side, but then overcame the Republic of Ireland in a scrappy encounter to make the last eight. There they would meet England, and after a goalless draw against a team that didn’t ask too many questions the Azzurri would prevail on penalties to set up tomorrow’s meeting in Warsaw.

Facts and Stats

Right, let’s get the number crunching over with. Germany have met Italy thirty times – winning seven, drawing nine and losing fourteen. In tournament competition the two teams have met on seven occasions, with the Azzurri prevailing on three occasions (World Cup 1970, 1982 and 2006) with four draws (World Cup 1962 and 1978, Euro 1988 and 1996).

The last Germany v Italy fixture was played on 9th February 2011 in Dortmund, with the match finishing 1-1 after an early Miroslav Klose strike was cancelled out by Giuseppe Rossi nine minutes from time. The Nationalmannschaft have not beaten the Italians for seventeen years, with their last victory coming on neutral territory in Zürich on 21st June 1995.

This is Germany’s eighth European Championship last four appearance, and only once in their previous seven attempts have the the three-time winners failed to progress to the final (1988, when they lost 2-1 to the Netherlands in Hamburg). The Italians have made the last four on five occasions (in 1980 they finished second in their first phase group but qualified for the now defunct third-place play-off) and have reached the final twice, winning in 1968 and finishing as runners-up in 2000.

Should Miroslav Klose play he would reach 121 international caps, and he currently stands second on the all-time top goalscorers list with sixty-four, four behind the record held by Gerd Müller. Klose has fourteen more goals than the entire Italian squad combined.

Who’s to start?

The personnel changes made for the quarter-final against Greece has led to a number of questions being asked. Is Nationaltrainer Jogi Löw going to retain the attacking line up that there so successful against the Greeks, or is he going to revert back to the more solid-looking eleven than won all three of their group phase games? Or might there be some sort of compromise?

Let’s start with the definites, and then discuss the either/ors.

Manuel Neuer. Probably the definite out of all the definites. One cannot imagine a current German lineup without their titanic, penalty-taking, wannabe Libero Torhüter.

Jérôme Boateng. Didn’t have the best game against Greece, but Boateng would expect to be named at right-back to look after the dangerous and unpredictable Mario Balotelli. The two met in the 2009 Under-21 Euro final, which Germany won 1-0.

Mats Hummels. One of the defenders of the tournament, yet another definite.

Holger Badstuber. Not the best game against Greece but solid enough to be seen as one of the starters.

Philipp Lahm. The skipper has more than proved his worth in the tournament that far. Like Neuer, you couldn’t imagine a first-choice German lineup without the little man.

Sami Khedira. The defensive midfielder has been the man of the tournament for me, and one of the definite starters alongside Neuer and Lahm. Could well be asked to keep an eye on the dangerous Andrea Pirlo.

Bastian Schweinsteiger. Still carrying a slight knock, Schweinsteiger has not been at his best in this tournament, but remains a key cog in the team’s machinery. Passed fit in training, and is another one of those essential names.

Mesut Özil. The mercurial playmaker who is the heartbeat of the Mannschaft’s attack. Can one imagine a starting eleven with Özil?

Thomas Müller or Marco Reus. The position on the right of the midfield was one of those that saw a change, with Reus coming in for Müller who had played all three group matches. Reus offers speed and boundless energy, while Müller provides his footballing brain and his own brand of unpredictability. Reus was a revelation against Greece, but Müller may be the safer choice; alternatively, there may be room for both of them with the versatile Reus switching out to the left wing and/or potential doubling up as a second striker.

Soon to be seen on a supermarket shelf near you...?
Soon to be seen on a supermarket shelf near you…?

Lukas Podolski or André Schürrle or Reus. Probably the most unpredictable slot. Podolski started in the three group games and offered plenty defensively, but was poor going forward. Schürrle started against Greece and was encouraging, but was a little greedy and gave the ball away to allow the Greeks to break. It’s likely to be Podolski to start, but Löw could very easily pull a fast one and start with Reus – allowing Müller to reclaim his slot on the right.

Miroslav Klose or Mario Gómez. Gómez scored three goals in the opening two matches, and looked good while looking a little isolated. Klose meanwhile scored against Greece while linking up well with the fast-moving players around him and creating space with his intelligence and movement. It’s a tough one. Does the coach bring back Gómez and play the calculated game, or does his go with Klose with the aim of creating more chances?

It’s actually too hard to predict a starting lineup, so I’ll present the eleven I would pick…

Neuer – Boateng, Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm (c) – Khedira, Schweinsteiger – Müller, Özil, Reus – Klose

The Italian Job

12 thoughts on “The Italian Job

  • June 29, 2012 at 11:14

    I think last night’s result was fair. The current Germany team, whilst being excellent, is about worthy of the semi-final stage in a major competition.

    As a long time Mannschaft fan (and now an Irishman living in Germany), I’ve been concerned about the performance of the team in the whole competition. The match against Portugal was worrying, Portugal should have at least drawn. This German team are not firing on all cylinders, as they were in South Africa.

    Last night the class difference between the two teams was apparent. The Italian defence; experienced, clever, strong; had no trouble from a centre forward as static as Gomez. The guy is a donkey. Slamming a few in against the likes of F.C Köln and the other dregs of the Bundesliga every season does not a great German striker make. This is the nation that produced Gerd Müller and Rudi Völler. Gomez is about as dangerous as Carsten Jancker. The difference when Klose came on was striking. Klose moves!

    The thing that struck me throughout the whole tournament was how difficult it was for Germany to score. The fact that it should have been 5-0 at half time in the Greece match was much more concerning to Germany, than to Greece. There was never any real danger from the German front line. Everything appeared so laboured. Last night, when Balotelli was tearing away from Hummels and Boateng et al, you could see the difference. It’s hard to lay the blame squarely at the back 4 though, they had to push so far up.

    Podolski is awful, and always was. Poor Arsenal.

    Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Özil remain the heart of a genuinely excellent midfield, but with Schweinsteiger most certainly not at 100% (although eventually he did well in his modified sweeper role last night, when Boateng went off), it was reasonably easy for the Italians to control the centre of the pitch.

    For the Germans to be on the same level as Italy and Spain (all this talk of how easy Germany would have been able to beat Spain is ridiculous – it would have been worse than last night) they need something else. I hope that 2 more years of experience, the removal of Gomez and Podolski, and some luck, will be enough.

    And thank you for this wonderful blog, it’s been great throughout the whole tournament!

  • June 29, 2012 at 00:30

    Thanks all for your comments, a nice head of steam had gathered and it is a shame that we couldn’t carry this through to the end.

    I will be churning out the match report and analysis in the next couple of days, and will no doubt touch on many of the points made here. Löw really blew it, big time. If he went with the same team that played against Greece and they got blown away, I could have taken that. But to recall Gómez and Podolski? Nothing against Gómez, but he is not the right player for this team. As for Podolski, he was so awful in the first three games that I honestly believed we had seen the last of him in this tournament when he was subbed against Denmark.

    You called it Kenan – by the time the right team was on the pitch, it was too late – but even then we fluffed our chances.

    Fair play to Italy – they played well and Balotelli had a cracking match. I just hope that they can do the same on Sunday, though I will probably not be concentrating too much on what goes on. I think I need a holiday.

    This site and blog is running on of course, and after the obligatory post mortem and mourning session will pick up again next season with the friendly against Argentina and the long road to Brazil 2014.

    I hope all of you will be there with us.

  • June 28, 2012 at 23:55

    Gomez!!! Podolski??? Why???

    In addition to the fact that the defence was a mess, Germany was playing with two men down. Gomez did nothing, and when Klose came in, he showed us what we were missing. He played really well, ran to space, won balls, made passes,etc…

    Reus was very good. Podolski should be 3rd option now after Reus and Schurrle. Enough of his arrogance and lack of creativity. He just blast the ball, and if he is within 8 yards, it might go in.

    I’m sure that we all beleived that if we had somehow scored another goal in the last seconds, we were going to win the match. This is because we had the right team on the pitch, but it was only 45 minutes late.

    We gave away this match. We had all what we needed to win. No excuses.

    I feel sorry for Klose, 3 semi-finals, 2 finals, and no trophy. He’s probably going to be the only one in the top 10 great German players that has no trophy.

    30 years I’ve been waiting to kick the Italians ass. For how long I have to wait?

    Had Germany one, it would have been the 17 win in a row. Our 500th game, the first to beat Italy, the 7th final, and we would have shredded the Spaniards.

    No Spain will have an easy game. The Italians are exhausted and Spain barely put any effort against Portugal. If they win, it would be 3 trophies in 4 years. Just not fair.

    thanks all for the great blog.

  • June 28, 2012 at 21:51

    I feared the worst when I saw the line up. I’m afraid Loew messed up big time. Podolski and Gomez should never wear the German Trikot ever again. I bet the Italians couldn’t believe their luck. After a shaky first 10 minutes they dominated the game. Unfortunately Klose, Reus and Müller were facing an unhill task when they came on, as the game was already over.

    • June 28, 2012 at 22:34

      Gomez is great, but he just does. not. work. with the style of play. Klose was on way too late, by that time the team had been badly battered out of shape. Podolski was absolutely useless.

      Ahead of all this I will put the coach in the dock, as he saw fit to pay too much respect to the Italians and as a result sacrificing everything that has been done so well up to that point.

  • June 28, 2012 at 15:17

    Past histories mean nothing. Surely it is now time to defeat the Azzurri. Yes, they are unbeaten but they could not defeat an average England team over 120 minutes. This Italian team are not as defensive as those in the past so the Mannschaft should create more opportunities. Let us hope our finishing will be clinical. I agree with the team you pick Chef – with Reus and Müller switching flanks if need be. I think it would be disastrous to play Gomez. Klose would cause the Italian defence bigger problems with his link up play.

  • June 28, 2012 at 13:53

    It has been almost six years since that faitful night in Dortmund. 5 of the players who were there are still with the current squad. Schweini, Klose, Podolski, Lahm, and Mertesacker. It was another failure against the Italians. Back then, a lot of us expected defeat. No one expects anything except a victory today. It is about time to take our destiny into our own hands.

    Low has always been unpredictable. Maybe Lahm moves to the right or Gotze comes in as a starter. Expect anything.

  • June 27, 2012 at 17:56

    With my prediction on the lineup last time coming to be spot on. I feel lots of pressure this time. so here it goes:

    – Low gives a lot of value to players with tournament experience. Against Greece, he felt confident and took the risk. he will be much more conservative against Italy.

    – I’m certain he would start with Klose. It was obvious be brought out the best in Ozil and the wings. His Italian experience will surely count.

    – He will start with Poldi because Poldi can be more aggressive defensively. Low will leverage that Poldi starting role is threatened. He’ll give him a chance and I’m sure Poldi will be giving it all he’s got.

    – He will start Muller, and save Reus to speed up the tempo.

    My concerns are:

    – Schwieni was toothless against Greece. Shouldn’t we consider bringing in Kroos from the start. But Low, will certainly give him a chance and I think that unless he produces something good, he’ll change him at half time.

    – Our defence conceded 4 goals but we have had very few attacks against us. I watched Italy and they are very dangerous as you can’t predict what they will do. They do set pieces, headers, shooting from outside, drop balls behind defence, etc….

    – Pirlo needs to be neutralized. He is their Ozil. If he is on a good day, he’ll kill us.

    – Italy put a good show against England. 9 players had yellow cards with the risk of missing the semi-final. These players will now play more comfotably and will be more aggressive. Expect a much more physical game.

    Things to look forward to:

    – They played 120 minutes. We got two days extra to rest. they are surely much more tired than us. We had a relatively easy game against Greece, we made 3 key substitutions and rested key players.

    – This team is determined to put an end to the Italian complex. I have been waiting since 82 for this to happen.

    – This could be Klose final tournament, although I hope not, so he’ll surely give it all he’s got.

    – With all the changes that were made last time, Italy will not be able to predict the lineup and they won’t be as prepared. They are much more predictable.

    Finally, it would be so sweet to finally beat Italy and then meet Spain in the final and beat them.

    I predict 2-1 Germany.

    • June 28, 2012 at 09:10

      Excellent points, and I do see what you are saying about Poldi who if he gets the chance to start will be throwing everything he has.

      As for Miro, he simply has to start as we need to dominate early, and the most effective way of doing that is to get the Italians on the back foot. If we can get on the scoresheet quickly, it may turn into an easy night as the Italians will be tired and don’t really have the same strength in depth.

      What we don’t want is the game to develop into a stalemate, which will play straight into Prandelli’s hands.

  • June 27, 2012 at 15:03

    I like your term Libero-Torhüter for Neuer. On the one hand I hope he won’t have much to do tomorrow, but if he manages a game like Schalke vs. ManU in the 1st leg, all the better. 😀

    Against a deep Greece squad it was the right decision to bring to fast players with Reus and Schürrle, but against Italy I would be more relaxed if at least one side would have a more experienced player like Müller or Podolski.For the right flank, I believe Müller is better suited to help Boateng keeping this side clean. And starting with Reus on the left. They might even switch positions during the game. I believe Lahm has stabilized in this tournament and can live with a slightly more forward-oriented Reus compared to Poldi. Or Poldi now wants to show his offensive potential from previous tournaments. Schürrle started great against Greece but having rewatched that game today, he lost a few balls and it was the right decision to substitute him right before the 3-1. As striker it is a fair game, but I loved how Klose combined with Özil/Reus/Schürrle and his Italian skills might also come in handy.

    All in all I would also wish for the same starting line-up as yours, but since the squad is so deep and Jogi had a “glückliches Händchen” so far, as long as the’ll win, I can’t complain. 🙂

    • June 27, 2012 at 15:44

      I agree, we need one experienced head out on the wing. I think many observers would be happy with Müller/Reus and Klose up front, as it gives us wonderful flexibility. Good point about them being able to switch positions – this is just the sort of tactic that can be used to unnerve the opposition as it is very difficult to read.

      Schürrle works effectively as a second half “Joker”, and it might be an idea to throw him into the mix; I liked his pace and variation against Greece, but he can give the ball away way too easily and is more than a little greedy at times with his shooting.

      With a squad this good and this deep, we are far more advanced now than we were in 2010, while the Italians are not much better. I think Khedira can keep a watch on Pirlo without compromising his own game, and this is the key.

  • June 27, 2012 at 14:38

    It time to beat italy! but when Germany dont win the euro, so, for me it is better lose the semis!!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.