Germans can't break Italian 'curse'

[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.

6 Gianluigi Buffon
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)

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.)

21 comments about "Germans can't break Italian 'curse' ".
  1. Carlos Thys, June 29, 2012 at 6:19 a.m.

    Can the referees who read these pages assist me on this question? Would you? Here is where I have my questions: In the 88th or 89th minute Thiago Motta (a sub on for Italy) makes a foul and the French referee whistles to stop play to give Motta his yellow card. My big problem with this is that Germany had not lost ball possession. Stopping play to issue the yellow and give Germany the direct free kick did Germany no good. It was a clear disadvantage to not let play proceed. In short, what the French referee did was plain daft; he further penalized the team that had been fouled. Yet I see this now all the time. The concept of "advantage" seems to have vaporized. (A glaring example that just stands out was just such a call against Messi in May 2009 in the Champions League final against Man. United -- an absolutely boneheaded stoppage of play by the ref -- yes, my thoughts on it) No, the Germans would not have probably gotten their first goal (this was prior to the Oezil PK) from this situation, but the ref stopping play? I mean, that's exactly what the Italians want to do, and most other teams that need to get all defenders best positioned and those 4 to 5 seconds of just a quick breather do likewise when under consistent pressure or attacks. I mean, that's why they foul. The freekicks are usually too just a bit to far away or meaningless. And we all know it. So note the foul by Thiago Motta (where the Germans do retain possession) and give Motta his due yellow at some other proper stopped time - later. DON'T cease a German movement so you as the referee can take center stage again to administer your justice. Or? Or do I see this 89th minute advantage situation wrongly? I would appreciate feedback. Thank you.

  2. Massimiliano Ciniglio, June 29, 2012 at 8:03 a.m.

    I read this article and just want to laugh! I don't understand what's up with you Americans that are in love with Germany to the point to be blind enough and don't see the reality of the game. You only talk about how bad Germany was playing, like if they where playing a USL team!!! And you never mention how smart Italy played this game. Not only did Italy dominated against England, but also against Germany. Even in not such a good game for Pirlo we was one more time brilliant. Buffon, even though he started a little bit nervous was great, demonstrating he is the best goalkeeper in the world. Chiellini Barzagli and Bonucci where impeccable in the defense. Balotelli was superb humiliating the Germans. This game could have easily finished 4 -0, but you only talked about how bad the Germans played??
    I'm not sure what game were you watching, but I saw a 4 times world champion beat Germany one more time in semifinals. And regarding Mr. Carlos comment, well!! I'm not even going to waste my time.

  3. Phil Love, June 29, 2012 at 8:47 a.m.

    Good point Signore Ciniglio. Yes, Germany was below their usual level, but Italy played well to make them pay for their sub-par performance. Signore Thys is correct on the "advantage" play in question, but I believe the trend on the advantage rule is opposite of what he believes. It seems to me that referees have changed "advantage" to "not disadvantaged". As long as the fouled team retains the ball, no foul is called, even though a free kick would benefit them more.

  4. Gary Levitt, June 29, 2012 at 8:54 a.m.

    Carlos, you are correct that the referee had the option of letting play continue and then issuing the caution on the next stop in play. With that said, noone really believes that the referee 'stopping play' had any effect on the result. Pirlo was pure class and his supporting cast simply outplayed the Germans. Mr. Ciniglio, there is nothing "up with us Americans".
    The Germans, heading into the Semi played at a high pace and Loew's
    selection of his starting 11 had been
    spot on. He miscalculated the effectiveness of Podolski, Schweinsteiger, and Gomez --- which the aarticle describes. If we "Americans"
    are not to your liking do us all a favor and go somewhere else.

  5. Ronald Rossi, June 29, 2012 at 9:30 a.m.

    I've seen this mistake here and elsewhere on TV .. leading up to the first goal, Pirlo's pass found Chiellini who then played it to Cassano. The point is taken though, as it was an excellent ball from Pirlo that started the play.

  6. Gene Jay, June 29, 2012 at 9:33 a.m.

    Italy outplayed a really good German team, once again. Just because Germany slapped a weak Greece team, does not mean Loew made all the right moves in that game, and all the wrong moves against a peaking Italia team. Loew could have thrown any 11 he has against Greece and won. and as we saw, any 11 against Italy and would still lose. Loew could play any formation and beat Greece, any formation and lost to Italy.

  7. Mario Cesarone, June 29, 2012 at 9:57 a.m.

    Come on Mike, your article was all bout Germany and how they failed. I pose that it was the Italian midfield led by Pirlo that controlled the play and led to the failure of the German mids. ON a number of occasions I was awed by the poise shown by the Italians in bringing the ball out of the back with deft and flair while the Germans were pressing them hard. You have to admit there was the look of an Italy coming together with panache'.

  8. ROBERT BOND, June 29, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.

    As I have many times since '66, I woke up half German-you younger fans just have to get used to being the leader in top 4, non-1 finishes...still, the price of being perfectionists leads to the autopsy....I always tell my keepers, when the striker gets by the FBs, you have 1 chance-charge the ball, it's a big net, #1 was disappointing, like not fighting Drogbha at the end of that match...(& why Robben for the PK?).......the B M myopia, will we lose it by Brasil? Bastian obviously hurting, no Goetze or Schuerrle, world class Fussball-spielers should be able to shift at least one spot, like Mueller for Boateng...Kroos, really? Mindestens, we get a new Coach fuer die Roten.

  9. beautiful game, June 29, 2012 at 10:11 a.m.

    Germany looked puzzled and mentally fatigued while the Azzurri made simplicity and efficacy count...again, I must commend the constant TV closeups of player facials/coaches/ref, ground views and so many closeups of players returning to their positions...what purpose these TV collages have is to distort the rhythm of the game which really needs, wide angle shots to promote team shape, time, and space. Too many cameras on the pitch promote a disproportionate amount of eye fatigue.

  10. Andres Yturralde, June 29, 2012 at 11:06 a.m.

    Good takes and comments. I like it. My overall sense is that those two extra days of rest--and for some particular players even longer than that--actually hurt Germany. Italy came in with essentially the same players, all of whom were in-form and ready to rock. And rock they did!

  11. stewart hayes, June 29, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.

    The German squad appeared to be unsettled. Starting with the national anthem where the team looked uninspired and continuing into the game where the team played mechanically the result was not a surprise. Tactically the German team was more dangerous on the counterattack so their attempts to score against the packed Italian defense was not playing to their strength and playing into the hands of the Italians. Horrible defending by the Germans made the way easy for the Italians.

  12. Massimiliano Ciniglio, June 29, 2012 at 11:25 a.m.

    Mr. Gary, if you can't take any criticism then not even read the comments. "date al Cesare quello che è del Cesare"

  13. cisco martinez, June 29, 2012 at 11:51 a.m.

    Last night ALexis Lalas and Michael Ballock suggested that the German coach made too many changes and therefore lost the game. While taylor Twellman pointed out; did they not see the defending on both of those goals? A 3 v 1 on the wing allows a cross and essentially playing an offsides trap on Balotelli, where were the 2 center backs?

  14. Gary Levitt, June 29, 2012 at 11:54 a.m.

    Mr. Ciniglio, no credit is due based on your comments. The article was about the Germans playing substandard football. Italy will win on Sunday on penalties so just relax.

  15. Ramon Creager, June 29, 2012 at 12:02 p.m.

    I agree with Massimiliano and Mario. All tournament long we've been hearing about how great and wonderful and unstoppable the Germans were (with their manager routinely being referred to by his nickname--how cute!), and how boring the Italians/Spaniards were, and how Germany was going to make the finals this time. One of the Spanish language ESPN Deportes commentators called this bias blatant ("descarado"; watch it on during the semifinal broadcast, and he's right. Even after Germany lose Italy's win is "unexpected" (changed from "upset" on Not exactly enlightening stuff.

  16. Ramon Creager, June 29, 2012 at 12:06 p.m.

    Cisco, I loved Twellman. He can think circles around the other two, and is one of the exceptions to my complaint about the pro-German slant in the coverage.

  17. Vendetta diPirlo, June 29, 2012 at 3:15 p.m.

    That was the worst, weirdest article I've ever read on this site, an inexplicable pro German, anti-Italian diatribe - like listening the Limbaugh talk about Obama or MSNBC talk about republicans. Does the author have something against Italians?

    Pirlo has played beautifully, like the best moments of Zidane (without the head butts)
    If Italy wins the final and Pirlo plays at the same level, he deserves the ballon d'or.
    Italy blew so many chances in the 2nd half that the game could easily have finished 5-0.
    Germany faced a team that was technically superior and tactically better prepared and in the tradition of German (armies) once their initial organization broke down, they had no ability to adapt.

  18. Allan Lindh, June 29, 2012 at 4:48 p.m.

    Did no one else see Pirlo use his arm to clear a sure goal off the line in the first half, before Italy had scored? Not that the Germans didn't deserve it, given that they did the same to the US in the Japan WC. Video review should be used for all goal line decisions, both "ball across line" and handling ball to score or save goal. Fourth official could just have monitor to quickly check. IMHO Pirlo's "arm ball" was intentional, penalty should have been given, and he should have been red-carded.

  19. Valerie Metzler, June 29, 2012 at 5:42 p.m.

    Yes, I saw that, Allan. It was definitely intentional.

    I must say, the comments on this article are at least as, if not more, interesting than the article. Thanks!

  20. Kent James, June 29, 2012 at 11:42 p.m.

    Soccer is an interesting game. If Germany scores on the two Buffon flubs in the first five minutes, how the conversation would be different. Buffon is obviously a great goalkeeper, but such small things make a difference (I'm pretty sure Pirlo used only his thigh to save that goal, and boy did he look cool doing it; he was clearly the best player on the field). That being said, I don't think the Germans played horribly, with the exception of the two goals (other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?). People get beaten on the wings occasionally; the greater problem was Badstuber (?) was oh so slightly out of position, which meant that Balotelli could get the ball he couldn't. While not great defense, that was more Balotelli's great effort. The 2nd goal was pathetic defense (though again, Balotelli's finish was superb). I think Leow's selections were suspect, but it's not like the Germans couldn't play with the Italians. Credit should go to the Italian defenders, especially the center backs. Both Gomez and Klose are very strong in the air, yet it looked like Germany would not score on 1,000 crosses (and I think they had almost that many). What I don't understand about the German attack was why when it became clear that that approach was not working, they kept at it? Why not try to get around the flanks? While Italian supporters point to the possibility of more goals at the end, those were clearly the result of Germany throwing everything forward (how many times do you see a goal keeper doing a diving header in midfield!), and doesn't really indicate dominance (though Italy did deserve to win).

  21. Luis Arreola, June 30, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.

    Great game to watch. Italy has improved collectively every game and were not expected to win even ought they tied Spain. There id defenitely an obsession with England and Germany as the soccer models to follow in USA. Now you Italians know how the Hispanics feel when reading these blogs. Did you know there was not one article on Mexico's win over Brazil by they had time to talk about Guatemala suspending 2 players along with Jamaica. I guess those articles are more popular in USA. Italy has looked as Italy usually does. Tecniical and tactical. Deal with it.

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