Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, 04.07.2006

0-2 aet (0-0, 0-0)
– / Grosso 119., del Piero 120.+1.

Germany’s tense and emotional penalty shootout victory over Argentina would send the country into overdrive, and with the elimination of one of the teams seen by many pundits as tournament favourites confidence would be high during the buildup to their semi-final against old foes Italy.

The Mannschaft had not beaten the Italians in a major competitive international – a record stretching back six matches to 1962 – but in spite of this the mood was one of optimistic expectation. The home side had turned things around to reach the last four – beating the much-lauded Argentinians en route – while their Italian opponents had battled their way through without ever impressing. The momentum would surely be with Jürgen Klinsmann’s side, who would also be playing in Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion – a ground considered something of a fortress.

Clearly, something would have to give.

As had been the case in 1982 Italian football had been rocked by a series of major scandals, and it was against this backdrop that the team travelled to Germany in 2006. The Azzurri had claimed seven out of nine points in a first-phase group consisting of the Czech Republic, the United States and Ghana, but it was in the second phase where they would get their biggest scare. Up against an unheralded but well-organised Australia in Kaiserslautern, Marcello Lippi’s side would survive being reduced to ten men before clinching victory five minutes into injury time with a hotly-disputed Francesco Totti penalty. The quarter-final would be a little easier, with a toothless Ukrainian side being dispatched 3-0.

Having had few selection problems earlier in the tournament, Jürgen Klinsmann’s task would be upset by the one-match ban meted out to Torsten Frings following the post-match shenanigans at the end of the quarter-final. FIFA’s initial verdict had been that the German team had no case to answer, but footage subsequently submitted by television channel Sky Italia would lead to FIFA reopening the investigation.

The involvement of the Italian media in Frings’ suspension only served to up the ante between the two sides, and the German media – fuelled by the team’s good form and the age-old footballing rivalry between the two countries – did much to whip things up even further.

With the influential Frings unavailable for selection, Klinsmann found himself having to rejig the hitherto settled midfield foursome, with Tim Borowski coming in for his suspended Werder Bremen teammate and Borussia Dortmund’s Sebastian Kehl replacing Bastian Schweinsteiger. Elsewhere however there would be no changes, with Klinsmann playing the same 4-4-2 formation.

On what was a warm evening in Dortmund, the atmosphere would be electric as both sides entered the stadium with a crowd of sixty-five thousand in attendance. The home side would once again be dressed in their familiar white shirts and black shorts, with the Italians in all blue; leading out the sides would be Mexican referee Benito Archundia, who would be in charge of the biggest match on German soil since the final of 1974.

[match report]

Jens Lehmann dives to his right, but cannot stop Fabio Grosso’s shot just a minute from the end of extra time

What could have been. Nationaltrainer Jürgen Klinsmann, skipper Michael Ballack and the suspended Torsten Frings

A champion, but destined never to be a winner. A dejected Michael Ballack takes the applause from the crowd

With two minutes to go most of the crowd had been expecting yet another penalty shootout, but two minutes can be a lifetime in football – a game where things can be turned on their head in the merest blink of an eye. Those final dramatic moments would tear the heart out of every German supporter, and the mood of hope and expectation would in an instant become one of profound sadness and shock.

There would be tears both on and off the pitch, and not a dry eye could be seen among the white-shirted supporters in the crowd as You’ll Never Walk Alone was appropriately piped around the ground. Oh how we all wished that it could have been Oliver Pocher’s ubiquitous tournament anthem Schwarz und Weiß instead.

Unlike the Argentinians in the quarter-final, the German team would take their defeat like men. Having been flat out on the floor in the wake of the final whistle, they would find the strength to stand back up again and congratulate their opponents before receiving warm applause from the equally appreciative crowd who would remain in good voice. Both sides had given their all in what had been a titanic contest worthy of any major tournament semi-final, but it would be the Azzurri marching on to Berlin for a final showdown against 1998 champions France.

It would be so close, and yet so far: the Sommermärchen had come to an heartbreaking end, with our old friends from Italy once again pulling out the stops when it mattered. All that remained now would be for the Mannschaft to sign things off in the third-place playoff against Portugal.

Germany: Lehmann – Friedrich, Mertesacker, Metzelder, Lahm – Schneider (83. Odonkor), Kehl, Ballack (c), Borowski (73. Schweinsteiger) – Klose (111. Neuville), Podolski

Italy: Buffon – Zambrotta, Materazzi, Cannavaro, Grosso – Perrotta (104. Del Piero), Pirlo, Gattuso, Camoranesi (91. Iaquinta) – Totti – Toni (74. Gilardino)

Referee: Benito Archundia (Mexico)
Assistants: José Ramírez (Mexico), Héctor Vergara (Canada)
Fourth Official: Toru Kamikawa (Japan)
Fifth Official: Yoshikazu Hiroshima (Japan)

Yellow Cards: Borowski, Metzelder / Camoranesi
Red Cards: – / –

Attendance: 65,000

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