Uwe Seeler and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger could not do it. Nor could Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. Or Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Or Matthias Sammer and Jurgen Klinsmann. And on Thursday night Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mesut Ozil showed that they, too, could not do it. They could not beat Italy in a competitive fixture.
This result in Warsaw extends the historic sequence to four wins and four draws, going all the way back to the World Cup in Chile exactly 50 years ago, when the two sides drew 0-0 in a group match.
Italy’s goalkeeper that day was Lorenzo Buffon, a cousin of the grandfather of captain, Gianluigi Buffon, whose hectic saves and punches buttressed a defence that endured typical Italian agonies as it clung to the lead supplied by Mario Balotelli’s two goals.
That was quite a side back in 1962: Cesare Maldini, Omar Sívori, Jose Altafini and the 18-year-old Gianni Rivera established a template from which the results such as this are still being stamped out. And, always so full of hope with generation after generation of shiny new-model players assembled in the spotless laboratories of the Bundesliga, are still being stamped on.
Coming into this tournament, Joachim Loew’s squad was just about everybody’s favourite to put an end to Spain’s four-year grip on international football.
The team is the product of a programme that, in the last three years, had resulted in important victories over Italy at under-17, under-19 and under-21 level.
Before Thursday night, Loew’s team had won 15 competitive fixtures in a row, beating a record previously held jointly by Spain, France and Holland. It seemed to be on an upward curve that began in Euro 2008 and continued at the World Cup two years ago.
No doubt the German team and many others were hoping to see if it could reverse the result of the 2010 semifinal in Durban, where it lost to Spain by the only goal.
The style and quality of its football has made it perhaps the most widely admired Germany side since the team of Beckenbauer, Müller and Günther Netzer won the European title on home soil in 1972.
With Ozil injecting the level of artistry and spontaneity once embodied by the great Netzer, this is a Germany team we can all warm to.
On Thursday night it fought to the end but was not quite good enough to match Cesare Prandelli's remarkable Italy, the product of a man with a vision that involves taking the long-established virtues of Italian football and adding something extra.
Just as Loew has added emotion to German’s efficiency, so Prandelli has made Italy much more than a brilliant defensive platform from which to mount the occasional counterattack. And, of course, he has Andrea Pirlo.
It took the English an awfully long time to discover Pirlo. And now that they have, everybody wants one.
If only Roy Hodgson could unearth an English Pirlo, they are saying, all his problems would disappear.
But it takes more than an Andrea Pirlo to make a team world class. The playmaker has to have someone to play with, a group of team-mates attuned to his patient geometry.
It takes a good team to extinguish Pirlo's influence, too, and that was German's priority on Thursday night.
“He is the one who directs the game,” Loew said, “so we'll have to stop him and get in his radius.”
Rudi Voller, one of his predecessors as Germany's head coach, added: “They have to isolate Pirlo.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012