Having been unable to watch this game live – it would not be broadcast in the United Kingdom and I would be in Edinburgh having dinner after a long walk in the city – I would return home to watch the DVD kindly sent by my contact in Germany. I promised myself what I started this project that there would be a minute-by-minute report of every match, and I have managed to stay on track…
It’s a cool dry evening in Milan’s famous Guiseppe Meazza – better known as the San Siro – and both teams make they way out led by by Portuguese referee Olegário Benquerença. The Nationalhymne is met with a few whistles from the home crowd, while the Italians belt out the words of Inno di Mameli with their usual almost operatic enthusiasm.
The pre-match formalities over, the two teams make the last-minute preparations for what is the thirty-second instalment of this famous fixture. With the young German side still smarting from last summer’s defeat at the European Championships, this isn’t going to be any ordinary friendly – and coach Joachim Löw has named a full-strength side in an attempt to secure what will be their first win in seven attempts over the Azzurri – a negative record spanning eighteen years.
With the Italians kitted out in an all-blue ensemble, the Nationalmannschaft are in their new all-white Trikot – the first time the team hasn’t worn black shorts with its famous white shirt since the World Cup second group match in 1974 against Poland. A case of Weiß und Weiß as opposed to Schwarz und Weiß.
It is the fourth time that a new Nationaltrikot is making its debut against Italy, the previous occasions being March 1992 in Torino (white), March 1994 in Stuttgart (white) and April 2006 in Firenze (red).
1 min. In front of a crowd of forty-nine thousand, the visitors get things under way. After a scrappy opening few seconds, Mario Balotelli has a chance to run at the German goal before sending his shot harmlessly wide.
3 mins. Balotelli is causing a nuisance just outside the Germany penalty area, and wins a free kick. Andrea Pirlo’s attempt floats over the crossbar without threatening ‘keeper Manuel Neuer.
5 mins. It has been an encouraging start for the Italians, and Joachim Löw’s side haven’t had a look in yet. They need to try and keep the ball a bit better just to calm things down a little. The coach and assistant Hansi Flick look suitably concerned.
7 mins. An Italian move breaks down, and the men in white make their way to the other side of the field with some fluid movement. Sami Khedira wins a corner out on the right.
8 mins. Completely against the run of play, Germany open the scoring. Toni Kroos swings the corner into the Italian box, and centre-back Mats Hummels is there to leap above a small crowd of blue shirts to head the ball just in off the post past Gianluigi Buffon. 1-0.
10 mins. Germany are clearly more confident having taken the lead, and win another corner out on the right. Kroos swings it in, and Benedikt Höwedes rises above Ignazio Abate before sending a powerful header just wide. With Buffon rooted to the spot, that could so easily have doubled the Mannschaft’s lead.
12 mins. Balotelli swings in a cross as Italy attack down the right, but Neuer claims.
15 mins. Having endured a slightly testing opening spell, Joachim Löw’s side are starting to look more comfortable in midfield.
17 mins. Germany are continuing to pass the ball around well, and having found some space outside the Italian penalty area Khedira lets fly with his right foot. Buffon is beaten, but the ball cannons off the inside of the post. Luckliy for the Italians, the balls ends up back in the arms of the grateful ‘keeper.
19 mins. Balotelli’s weaving run into the German box ends as he runs into Lahm, and the referee waves play on as the Italian crashes to the ground.
21 mins. As the game passes the twenty minute mark, Germany are well worth their lead – and are perhaps a little unlucky to be only leading by the one goal. The home crowd are starting to get a little impatient with Cesare Prandelli’s side.
24 mins. A speculative long-distance effort from Pirlo ends up in the arms of Neuer.
25 mins. Götze wins a free-kick after the referee notices that Andrea Barzali wants to swap shirts early. Kroos sends the free kick out to the far post towards Thomas Müller, but the FC Bayern man’s header is easily collected by Buffon.
28 mins. Italy suddenly up a gear and win two corners in the space of a minute, and the Germans fail to clear. The ball rolls towards the right-side corner flag with Hummels in pursuit, but the goalscorer’s pass out to Kroos is slightly overhit. With Kroos unable to collect the ball and clear the danger Abate seizes his chance, running into the box and playing a neat one-two with centre-back Leonardo Bonucci. The two defenders are looking like midfield maestros, and Bonucci’s lay-off sets things up nicely for the Milan right-back, who drills a low shot with his left foot past Neuer and just inside the far post. 1-1.
30 mins. Germany should have been well in front, but a defensive lapse and a moment of sublime skill from the Italians sees the score at one apiece. Löw’s side have to maintain their poise, regroup and start again.
32 mins. Khedira almost plays a killer ball right through the centre of the Italian defence towards André Schürrle, but the Chelsea winger is unable to collect. Just moments later a poor Italian pass is intercepted by Schürrle, who controls the ball brilliantly before launching into a right footed shot from twenty-two yards. Buffons throws up an arm more in desperation than anything, and the ball loops and dips almost perfectly before cannoning off the top of the crossbar. Germany have now been twice denied by the woodwork.
34 mins. Hummels loses possession rather clumsily outside his own penalty area, and Claudio Marchisio fires in a firm first-time shot that flies over the target.
37 mins. A nice little spell of possession for the hosts.
40 mins. Balotelli is unlucky not to win a free kick just outside the German box after Hummels gets a handful of his shirt, and Germany break quickly as the Portuguese referee waves play on. A moment of controversy is avoided as Schürrle’s pass to the fast-advancing Götze is overhit.
42 mins. It’s Germany’s turn to attack now, but Marcell Hansen’s cross into the opposition penalty area is intercepted and cleared.
45 mins. There are a few choppy fouls, but the referee keeps his cards in his pocket as half-time approaches. There are just six seconds of additional time in what has been an exciting and competitive forty-five minutes.
In all, an entertaining display from both sides – though the visitors might consider themselves unlucky not to have the lead. Germany’s goal would come from an orthodox and somewhat old-fashioned source – the centre-back nodding in at the far post from a corner – but two shots off the post and bar to deny Khedira and Schürrle would keep the Italians in the game. At the other end, the Azzurri would take advantage of some slack German defending to score a not wholly undeserved equaliser. Had Hummels simply cleared the ball away instead of trying to caress it to Kroos, Germany would be in front.
This is one of things this young team has to learn – it is all well and good passing oneself out of a sticky situation, but sometimes a good old-fashioned hoof up the field is all that’s needed.
46 mins. The hosts kick off at the start of the second half.
47 mins. Schürrle embarks on a run through the middle of the field, but is firmly body-checked by Thiago Motta. It’s a pretty obvious-looking foul, but the referee still keeps his cards in his pocket.
50 mins. Lahm and Khedira attack down the right, and the rangy defensive midfielder backheels the ball to the advancing Götze who makes his way into the Italian penalty area. Götze goes down a little easily under the challenge, and the loose ball falls to Schürrle who sends his slightly scuffed shot wide.
51 mins. Italy win a free-kick outside the German box as play quickly switches to the other end, and a smartly-taken training ground move sees Marchisio ghost down the left and into the danger zone, launching a firm shot from ten yards that is well parried by Neuer.
53 mins. The Italians make their first change of the evening, as Antonio Candreva comes on for Pablo Osvaldo. Germany attack down the right as Khedira makes his way to the byline, where he clumsily taken out by Domenico Criscito. The challenge doesn’t look massively dangerous and the referee waves play on, but Khedira doesn’t look good as the physio makes his way onto the field. Philipp Lahm meanwhile is booked for complaining to the Portuguese official.
57 mins. There’s confusion in the German defence as an angled ball makes its way into the penalty area, but Balotelli and Riccardo are unable to get a shot in. Hummels clears the danger.
59 mins. The German coach makes his first personnel changes, and it is a positive move as Marco Reus comes on for Schürrle and Mesut Özil replaces Götze.
60 mins. Reus is immediately in on the action as he combines well down the right with Höwedes, but the Borussia Dortmund winger loses control of the ball.
62 mins. Italy are looking sharp on the break, and Boateng is lucky to escape being called for handball as the men in white clear their lines. Italy then win a corner, but Hummels clears.
64 mins. Boateng is on hand to intercept another dangerous long ball.
65 mins. Khedira challenges Pirlo and it is a free-kick to the Italians, but the Real Madrid man remains on the ground. After his earlier tumble with Thiago Motta, things are long looking too good for the Germany number six. The physios are back on the pitch, and the limping Khedira is helped to the touchline.
67 mins. Khedira has clearly got the worst of that last challenge, and will play no further part in the match. Sven Bender comes on to slot into the now vacant defensive midfield role.
69 mins. Motta goes down easily when challenged by Bender, and Italy are awarded a free-kick. Balotelli blasts the ball straight at the wall.
70 mins. Marchisio fouls Müller, and the Italian makes his way into the referee’s notebook. During the break in play, Prandelli makes a change in defence as Angelo Ogbonna comes on for Barzagli.
71 mins. Kroos floats the resulting free-kick out to the left side of the Italian penalty area towards Hummels, but the tall centre-back can only head the ball wide of the target.
75 mins. Jansen makes a clean challenge on Abate and wins the ball, but the referee awards a free-kick to the Italians. Both sides seem content to keep the game in the middle of the pitch as the final ten minutes approaches. Both Reus and Özil have seen little of the ball in the fifteen minutes they have both been on the field. With little else going on, the director provides us with a montage of facial expressions.
81 mins. Kroos clips Thiago Motta who goes to ground, and out of nowhere Marchisio runs towards the German player with his hands outstretched. Kroos takes a shove from the Italian midfielder, and after what had been a lull for the best part of ten minutes all hell breaks loose. Players from both sides surround the referee, and in the ensuing melée Motta clearly puts his hand on Kroos’ face. Both Kroos and Motta are booked, and the Italian is clearly very lucky to still be on the field. Credit must go to Kroos however for not overreacting.
82 mins. Italy make another change as the tiring Pirlo makes way for Alessio Cerci.
83 mins. Özil floats dangerously outside the Italian box and unleashes a right-footed shot, but it flies well wide of the target.
85 mins. The game enters the final five minutes, and things are starting to get just a little scrappy with both sides committing silly fouls.
87 mins. Much to the annoyance of the home crowd the Germans are keeping the ball well, perhaps hoping for that final opportunity to find the winning goal. Looking to wind things down, the more defensive Lars Bender replaces Thomas Müller.
89 mins. The Mannschaft win a corner out on the right, and as the ball is floated into the eighteen yeard box Höwedes looks as though he is held by Abate. The Italians clear, and the Schalke skipper’s protests are waved away by Senhor Benquerença.
90 mins. Reus shows some sharp skill as he makes a run down the right, and his floated ball into the Italian box is met by Bonucci, whose slightly mistimed header is confidently held by Buffon. The touchline official signals two additional minutes.
90+2 mins. More patient play from the men in white, who make one last thrust towards the Italian goal as the final seconds tick down. A mistimed Italian clearance finds Höwedes at the edge of the area, and out of nowhere the Schalke man fires in a stunning shot with his left foot that beats the diving Buffon before crashing against the inside of the ‘keeper’s right post. With Buffon still on the ground the ball is loose, but Sven Bender and Marco Reus combine to make a complete pig’s ear of the rebound. With Reus looking poised to simply roll the ball into the empty net, Bender goes for it himself and the opportunity is lost. Germany are so close to breaking their eighteen-year hoodoo with what turns out to be the last kick of the game.
So, Germany have still not beaten Italy since 1995, and in typically agonising fashion would be denied three times by the woodwork – with the last moment coming right at the death just to rub salt into the wound. If proof was ever needed that Italy are a tough nut to crack, the chance right at the very end when Bender and Reus turned into a chaotic bundle of flailing legs could be cited as the perfect example.
Joachim Löw’s side can consider themselves unlucky to have only drawn this game, and on another night it could have been far more comfortable. The Italian goal would come out of nowhere after a poor defensive lapse, and for the rest of the evening ‘keeper Manuel Neuer would be largely untroubled by an Italian team that showed plenty of energy and ambition but little in the way of a cutting edge up front.
The German roadshow now moves on to England, which will see the Mannschaft round out the calendar year with a second prestige fixture in four days when they take on the Three Lions at Wembley.
v Italy, Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milano, 15.11.2013
Hummels 8. / Abate 28.
Germany: Neuer – Höwedes, Boateng, Hummels, Jansen – Lahm (c), Khedira (67. S. Bender) – Müller (87. L. Bender), Schürrle (59. Reus), Kroos – Götze (59. Özil)
Italy: Buffon (c) – Abate, Barzagli (72. Ogbonna), Bonucci, Criscito – Thiago Motta – Montolivo, Marchisio – Pirlo (82. Cerci) – Osvaldo (53. Candreva), Balotelli
Referee: Olegário Benquerença (Portugal)
Assistants: João Santos, Venâncio Tomé (Portugal)
Yellow Cards: Lahm 53., Kroos 82. / Marchisio 70., Thiago Motta 82.
Red Cards: – / –
Attempts on Target: 5 / 2
Attempts off Target: 6 / 5
Corners: 5 / 5
Fouls Committed: 13 / 11