• Friday, 29 June 2012

    Yesterday at the Euros #18

    Germany's tournament, this. At least one of our staffers has been saying that for over a year now. So Italy would just roll over and let them pass through to the final then yeah? Err, not quite.

    The first quarter-hour was Germany's. Mats Hummels probably should have scored from a corner, but rather snatched at his shot and it was knocked off the line by Andrea Pirlo. At the back, it looked like Hummels had Mario Balotelli in his pocket. Italy looked panicky every time the ball was played forward, but crucially, it didn't stick up there at the feet of Mario Gomez.

    After weathering that, Italy grew into it and tested Manuel Neuer with shots from Riccardo Montolivo and Antonio Cassano. Moments later, Cassano wriggled free on the left and put in a great ball for Balotelli to head in powerfully. Germany were behind for the first time in the competition and were visibly rattled, losing their shape.

    Germany were left open at the back as they looked for a way back in, operating with a very high line. All it needed was a well-weighted ball over the top for someone to run on to. Montolivo delivered the ball, Balotelli the run and he finished in emphatic style.

    Loew made changes after the break, Miroslav Klose for Gomez at the break, Thomas Muller for Jerome Boateng later, and they did press forward. However, a back four of Balzaretti, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chiellini will eat all that up and more. They were fairly comfortable. And while Germany pressed, Italy countered. Twice Claudio Marchisio went close, once played in by Alessandro Diamanti and again when squaring to Antonio di Natale was the better option. Di Natale had a chance to win it and Balzaretti had the ball in the net from an offside position. Germany just couldn't get out.

    They did get something in stoppage time as a needless handball gave Mesut Ozil the chance to pull one back from the spot, but it was all too little and all far too late.

    Were Germany hampered by the injury that Bastian Schweinsteiger was struggling with in the lead-up to the game? He was conspicuous by his inconspicuousness throughout. The changes Loew made to his starting line-up didn't work, threw their usual gameplan away and disrupted their flow. This handed the early initiative to Italy which they exploited brilliantly. And it wasn't the Andrea Pirlo show. This was a real collective effort and Pirlo, though good as usual, was not running it all such as he did in the quarter-final against France. A one-man team they are not, such that anyone thought that in the first place.

    Spain await in Sunday's final which throws up all sorts of tactical battles. The sides met in the group stages in a compelling 1-1 draw. Where's your money on this one?

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