[ITALY-GERMANY REPORT CARD] Italy kept its streak of success against Germany in major tournaments intact. And because key German players played well below form,
the Azzurri had a relatively easy time in a 2-1 win that sends them into the final against Spain on Sunday.
The Germans call Italy their “angst" opponent because never have they beaten the Azzurri in a major tournament, with losses including a 2-0 overtime defeat in the semifinals of the World Cup Germany hosted in 2006.
This time it would be different, claimed German players such as Lukas Podolski, who said before the game, “We will break the Italy curse!”
Italy, after all, had scored just four goals in its previous four Euro 2012 games -- two ties and one win in group play, and a shootout tiebreaker victory after the scoreless quarterfinal against England. The Germans stormed into the semifinal with four wins in which they scored nine goals.
The Germans also carried a 15-game unbeaten streak in official games into the semifinal, and hadn’t been shut out in 20 straight games. But the Italians, who got two first-half goals from Mario Balotelli, stifled the Germans until Mesut Ozil scored a stoppage-time penalty kick.
Podolski’s effort hardly lived up to his pregame promise and Coach Joachim Loew must rue giving him the start after the Germans had looked much better with Podolski on the bench in the 4-2 win over Greece.
Podolski, Germany’s most experienced player along with captain Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, misplayed balls and was far less threatening than his halftime replacement, Marco Reus, who had scored against the Greeks in the quarterfinal that Podolski sat out after lackluster first-round performances.
Equally as feeble as Podolski was center forward Mario Gomez, back in the starting lineup after Miroslav Klose scored against the Greeks. And most disappointing and damaging to the German effort was Schweinsteiger, who obviously had not recovered from an ankle injury. Usually the crucial link between the backline and the attack, and a tireless roamer in midfield, Schweinsteiger repeatedly lost the ball on the few occasions that he found it. A stark sign of his struggles came late in the game, when just outside the Italian penalty area and under no pressure, he handled a ball he should have easily controlled.
Giving midfielder Toni Kroos his first start of the tournament was another questionable Loew decision. As former Germany captain Michael Ballack said in his ESPN analysis, just because you have a deep squad “doesn’t mean you have to use all of them. … You have to find a group of players you want to play the whole tournament -- and then have maybe one, two or three changes maximum.”
Not that the Germans didn’t have their chances. They earned a whopping 14 corner kicks while the Italians had none. But the closest the Germans came to capitalizing was in the seventh minute when Mats Hummels’ weak shot nutmegged keeper Gianluigi Buffon only to have Andrea Pirlo clear off the line.
And Pirlo did what Schweinsteiger couldn’t: bring the ball out of the back and launch counterattacks. It was a pass from Pirlo that found Antonio Cassano on the wing. After spinning past Hummels, Cassano delivered the cross that Balotelli headed into the net in the 20th minute.
Riccardo Montolivo, who has a German flag on his shoe to honor his German mother, delivered the long pass that sent Balotelli through the middle for his second strike, a fierce shot off the bounce with German central defenders nowhere in sight.
Before Ozil’s penalty kick -- for a Federico Balzaretti handball in the second minute of stoppage time -- Alessandro Diamanti and Antonio Di Natale each missed clear chances.
Having ended the Germans’ hopes of winning their first major title since lifting the Euro crown in 1996, the Italians now have a chance to spoil Spain’s quest to become the first team to win back-to-back European Championships.
ITALY REPORT CARD
6 Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
7 Federico Balzaretti (Palermo)
6 Andrea Barzagli (Juventus)
7 Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
6 Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
6 Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
6 Daniele De Rossi (Roma)
7 Riccardo Montolivo (Fiorentina)
7 Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)
7 Antonio Cassano (AC Milan)
8 Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)
5 Alessandro Diamanti (Bologna)
5 Thiago Motta (Paris SG)
5 Antonio Di Natale (Udinese)
GERMANY REPORT CARD
5 Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
4 Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich)
3 Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
3 Holger Badstuber (Bayern Munich)
4 Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich)
6 Sami Khedira (Real Madrid)
2 Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
2 Lukas Podolski (FC Cologne)
3 Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich)
6 Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)
2 Mario Gomez (Bayern Munich)
6 Marco Reus (Borussia M’Gladbach)
4 Miroslav Klose (Lazio)
4 Thomas Mueller (Bayern Munich)
(1=low; 5=average; 10=high.)