Italy and Germany are tremendous historic rivals; as two of Europe’s most powerful footballing nations, any match between these two squads is intense and there is usually something on the line. Although this match probably won’t be as epic as the battle in Dortmund in the 2006 World Cup, it is still highly-anticipated and should be plenty exciting.
Injuries and Depth
Germany had an injury concern this week when Bastian Schweinsteiger suffered an ankle injury; there was a concern he would be unable to play in the semifinal but he seems to have recovered quickly. Still, there is a significant chance he is not at 100% fitness and his performance could be impacted. Coach Joachim Low must evaluate the options he has on his bench to play the role of impact sub.
Italy has had a bit more troubling fitness concerns, as Ignazio Abate, Giorgio Chiellini, and Daniele De Rossi have all suffered injuries in the past week. Chiellini has apparently returned to full strength and could possibly start at left-back (Federico Balzaretti would swap flanks and play at right-back). Even if these problems seem to be solved, Cesare Prandelli should have alternate solutions.
For Italy, the most important aspect of its gameplan is protecting creative fulcrum Andrea Pirlo and ensuring he has the space to roam in the back of midfield and spray passes over the pitch. In both of its games against England and Croatia, Pirlo had all the time in the world to make passes because there was nobody to close down on him (usually the job of a traditional number 10 like Wayne Rooney). Germany can’t afford to let that happen and may assign those defensive duties to Mesut Ozil, who although will never be the fastest player on the field, has the energy to press Pirlo.
Schweinsteiger is the epitome of German efficiency; originally an attacking midfielder, he has matured into an all-around threat, now plying his trade from a deep-lying position in midfield. However, he still has creative license to dart forward and either deliver a through ball or take a long-range shot. Italy must limit Schweinsteiger’s runs and keep possession of the ball, forcing him and Germany’s full-backs (including Phillip Lahm) to play deep and preventing them from advancing in attack.
Players With Something To Prove
Germany has quite a bit of young stars who have excelled at club level but have yet to have a signature moment playing for Die Mannschaft. Thomas Muller, Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle are just some of the players who have either just broken into the senior squad or appeared on the roster in the last two years. These budding stars have received chunks of playing time in the last two weeks and must understand that the pressure is greater than never before. A win against Italy puts this squad in the final, and these young guys have to elevate their games accordingly.
Italy’s three forwards have cycled throughout Prandelli’s two striking positions with mixed success. Although Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano have received the majority of playing time, each one goes through spells of invisibility during games, not necessarily having a considerable impact. Cassano’s performance against England was ultimately forgettable; he deserved to be substituted early in the second half. Azzurri supporters are hoping to see more of Antonio Di Natale, who marked the beginning of this tournament with a bang as he scored against Spain shortly after coming on. Although Di Natale is not built to play all 90 minutes, he needs to be integrated into games earlier. The three forwards each have different dimensions they bring to the table, and Italy will need each one to go punch-for-punch with the Germans.
Germany has soared throughout this tournament, winning every single game so far. Many pundits and analysts considered them to be the favorite going into EURO 2012, and the Germans simply have not disappointed. This squad is at the peak of its power as it searches for a European championship.
However, Italy will not let Die Mannschaft’s record this summer deter them. As any Italian will tell you, the Azzurri have had Germany’s number for quite some time, and the victory on German soil in the 2006 World Cup semifinal showed how fearless they can be. Italy has the personnel, specifically a strong spine up the middle (Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Pirlo and Balotelli), to engineer an upset.