Three-time champion on a 15-game winning streak
From the 1970 ‘Match of the Century’ to the 2006 summer fairy tale, tournament clashes between Italy and Germany have become part of folklore and their Euro 2012 semifinal clash on Thursday promises to be no different.
Germany, three-time world and Euro champion, goes into the encounter on a 15-game winning streak in competitive matches, but knowing it has never beaten the four-time World Cup winner in seven tournament encounters.
“We will break the Italy curse,” said Germany winger Lukas Podolski, who was part of the Germany team beaten 2-0 by Italy in the 2006 World Cup semifinal.
“There are opponents that are the most feared ones but we want to reach the final and hopefully Italy’s run ends with us.”
But Italy coach Cesare Prandelli will be looking for his side to extend its proud record of never losing to Germany in a major final.
“There is no such thing as an invincible side,” said Prandelli.
“Germany has that sense of knowing what they need to do. They are also physically strong and have players who have tasted international success at club level, so they are a side with the ingredients to go all the way.
“But we will study them closely and work on the few weak points they have.”
Italy needed a penalty shoot-out to beat England 4-2 in Sunday’s quarterfinal in Kiev with the Azzurri failing to hit the net in normal play despite 64 per cent ball possession and 35 shots compared to England's nine.
Prandelli has said the Italians will have to be daring in order to beat Germany, which is on a 15-match winning run in competitive matches.
“We have to take risks and not defend in our penalty area,” he said.
“I’d prefer it if they (Germany) scored on the counter-attack than have us defend constantly for 20 minutes.”
Germany's forwards shone in the 4-2 quarterfinal win over Greece and Prandelli is mindful of the risk of pushing too far forward against a German side with the pace to punish on the counter-attack.
Attention on Balotelli
Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli is one player the Germans have admitted they will pay close attention to after he spearheaded an Italian attack which had periods of impressive form against the Three Lions.
With only a three-day turn-around between the quarterfinal and semifinal, Prandelli has injury concerns over midfielder Daniele de Rossi and right-back Ignazio Abate, while Italy’s other right-back Christian Maggio is suspended.
Germany coach Joachim Loew has developed a habit for pulling surprises at this tournament highlighted by changing three of Germany's six-man attack against Greece in axing striker Mario Gomez, plus forwards Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller.
It means competition is fierce for places in the starting line-up and Borussia Dortmund-bound Marco Reus looked sharp against the Greeks on his tournament debut before scoring Germany’s fourth goal.
Loew has only concerns over pivotal midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who is still feeling the effects of tearing ankle ligaments in February.
The 27-year-old may have been doing himself a disservice in saying he put in a below-par performance in the win over Greece, but statistics show he made an impressive 109 passes with a completion rate of 92 per cent.
Having won the so-called ‘Group of Death’ by beating Holland, Portugal and Denmark en route to the knock-out phase, the Germans have made no secret of their desire to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup.
“We knew before the tournament that we have a strong team,” said Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil.
“We believe in ourselves and the goal is to return to Germany with the title. We are confident we can beat anybody.
“Italy are surprisingly strong, they proved that in their (group stage) draw against world champions Spain.
“If we play as we know we can, I am convinced we will beat Italy.” — Agencies
Keywords: Euro 2012 semifinal clash