Germany are bracing themselves for another big football match against Italy -- with skill and rest time seemingly on their side but history firmly against them.
Germany have never beaten Italy in seven competitive matches with the last painful defeat coming in the semifinals of the 2006 home World Cup.
But Germany have two days more of rest ahead of the Thursday date in Warsaw and did not have to go through extra-time and penalties in their 4-2 quarterfinal win against Greece as Italy required on Sunday against England before also prevailing 4-2 in a shoot-out.
The team of captain Philipp Lahm and coach Joachim Loew is finally determined to end the curse against the Azzurri with what is widely believed to be one of the most skilful teams in German football history.
That attribute formerly went to the class of 1972 which won the first of three Euro titles for then West Germany.
An important milestone to success 40 years was a first ever triumph for the nation at Wembley against England, in the quarterfinals. A similar first against Italy would be like a graduation for the current generation.
“You think of 2006. It was the last important match against Italy.
We weren’t as far (in our development) then as we are now,” Lahm said. “Our big aim is to be in the final.” Assistant coach Hansi Flick named the game “an exciting task” while the German media rejoiced about the “classic” even though the “record is disastrous” (BZ paper on Monday).
Germany and Italy have met 30 times, with Italy winning 14, Germany seven and nine draws. The last German victory dates back to a 1995 friendly and they have never beaten Italy in seven competitive games.
At World Cup level, the two sides drew 0-0 in the 1962 group stage and the 1978 second group stage. Italy won the “match of the century” 1970 semifinal 4-3, dominated the 1982 final 3-1 and prevailed 2-0 in the 2006 semis. The two previous meetings at Euro, both in group action, ended in draws, 1-1 in 1988 and 0-0 in 1996.
“Now we will settle the score ... This time we will advance -- unlike at the 2006 World Cup semifinal,” said the Bild paper.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) did not quite know what to make of the Azzurri after a dominant showing against England but some weaknesses as well.
“So its Italy. If you phrase it badly Jogi’s boys can get ready for a crooked semifinal opponent who allows chance after chance at the back and doesn’t score up front. But you can also speak of a very strong semifinal opponent who shots on target every minute and is unbelievably difficult to beat at the back,” the SZ said.
The fascinating tie will pit Mesut Oezil against Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon against Manuel Neuer and possibly young Mario Balotelli against veteran Miroslav Klose.
Loew has rejuvenated Germany and turned them from the masters of efficiency to modern football masters of skill. Italy’s Cesare Prandelli is following a similar pattern but still appears to be in the transition phase.
A final between Italy and Spain, or Portugal and Germany would be no surprise, if statistics are anything to go by.
Teams that met in their first Euro group match have contested the final as well every eight years since 1988: Netherlands v Soviet Union in 1988, Germany v Czech Republic in 1996 and Portugal v Greece in 2004.
This time around Italy played their first Euro 2012 match against holders Spain, who are in the other semi against Portugal, while the Portuguese lost 1-0 to Germany in their opening game.