Italy 2-0 Germany
Now this was a surprise.
So much of the coverage seems to have a Germany-centric POV, so I’ll take the time now to praise Italy. They were immense throughout the match, from top to bottom. Buffon was solid as ever, the defence shut down Germany throughout the game, the midfield dominated and absorbed, and the frontline could easily have added a third or fourth.
Pirlo is the player of the tournament already. He just bossed the midfield as he has bossed every midfield so far in Poland/Ukraine. He just seemed to never out a foot wrong, with his passes and being the crucial element in nearly every Italian attack. Cassano was a constant threat, and Balotelli. Well, he took both of his goals very well, then had to go and ruin it with his ridiculous celebration, which he knew would get him booked. There would have been a very proper bit of justice of he had gone on to get sent off. Balotelli can bang in the goals, but the man is just such a liability at times.
What happened to Germany? The golden generation have choked again. South Africa was the proving ground for what should have been their pay-off here, but Germany just did not turn up in the second half. A bad formation saw them narrow and play everything through the middle, which failed miserably as a threat. Schweinsteiger was just awful, as was Boetang, neither of them up to scratch for this stage of international football. Gomez couldn’t get a sniff of the ball, Ozil was underwhelming and Hummel had a total shocker. Amateurish at times, I was probably one of many thinking back to the dour semi-final performance against Spain in South Africa and thinking: Not again.
Because, when Germany play to the level that they are capable of, they are a joy to watch. But they were outplayed in nearly every department tonight. Yes, they exerted more control in the second half, thanks largely to a focus on the right flank as a route of attack. But the crosses rarely found Klose, who was marked out of the contest, while Reus made some chances but lacked the ability to take them. Ozil’s late penalty made it a bit exciting, but Germany wasted the mountain of possession they had in the second half. Lahm’s miss around 50 minutes in from a very decent position was a crucial moment, as the German captain slammed his shot well over. A goal at that moment could have changed everything.
Instead, it was Italy who looked more likely to score as the game went on with Balotelli and Di Natale missing glorious chances to kill the game off for good. The Azurri’s defence was solid enough so that Italy did not pay for that lack of finishing, but it will be a concern ahead of the final, if the wrong Balotelli shows up.
Germany go home, presumably distraught about what happened tonight, with questions to be asked of Low and his formation, his inclusion and exclusion of certain players. Germany are a very good team, which I mean in a very literal way: they have a team ethic and flow that can beat anyone when it works. But twice in a row they have faced into a big tournament semi-final and botched it. Brazil 2014 is unlikely to be a happy hunting ground for any European team, so will this German side have to wait for France 2016 to finally make good? That will be a long, long time to reflect on what might have been.
For Italy, it is the well deserved final place that so few saw them getting before Euro 2012 began. They have a really good squad that, like in 2006, has beaten the odds and morale killing situation at home to reach a tournament final. In Pirlo they have a star capable of anything at times, in Buffon they have a reliable pair of hands, in Balotelli they have a man who can, sometimes, win and lose game with a few kicks. They know Spain very well, and shut them down brilliantly in their group game. They have the belief and they have the talent.
Spain will probably be worried. The weight of expectation will be on them, and Italy were one of two teams that really challenged them in this tournament. Italy tore through Spain’s defence for Di Natale’s goal in the group game, and Pirlo will relish the opportunity of facing that midfield again. But Spain are Spain. They are the best in the world for a reason. If Xavi, Ineista and Silva can up their game from the last few matches, they should be able to get that third trophy in a row.
I got one of the semi’s right for my predictions, so I think I’ll favour what may seem like the riskier course for the final: Italy to win.