June 26, 2012
History means nothing to Germany, Italy
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency
WARSAW - A great deal has been made -- and will continue to be made -- about Italy's fine record against Germany in meaningful games.
When the two soccer powers meet Thursday in the second Euro 2012 semifinal, Germany will attempt to beat Italy for the first time in eight meetings. Italy has won three and the other four have been tied.
That gives Italian fans great hope.
Italy is going into the game as a decided underdog. The Germans have played wonderful soccer so far.
But there have been plenty of times Germany was at the top of its game, yet when it got down to the meat of the matter, the Italians always found a way to get the job done.
That gives not only Italian fans, but the Italian players as well, some confidence.
Italy has always played the Germans well so that really wasn't a concern going into this tournament. But when Italy tied Spain, that put their confidence through the roof. Spain is the defending European and World Cup champion. In its last two major tournaments, Italy looked dreadful. Not even Italy was sure what to expect in that game.
The game against Spain proved a bellwether for Italy and it set it up for the rest of the tournament.
When the Italians say they believe they can beat Germany, that's not just the kind of talk that one expects to hear from a dressing room, it's really believed.
Obviously, the Germans are going to have something to say about that. They've repeatedly said they "fear no team," but they are wary of some.
Italy falls into that category.
Previous records are interesting to look at but do they really mean anything? Other than historical value, does a 4-3 win by Italy against Germany in 1970 have any bearing on what might happen Thursday?
Teams have success against other teams over a long period of time because they find the style of play of their opponent suited to the way they play. Germany has changed formation and players over the years but have always played the same.
They always had marvelously skilled players in the midfield, led by Michael Ballack, Gunther Netzer, Lothar Matthaeus and many others. Most of them liked to go forward.
German defenders are usually just that, defenders. The strikers were either big, strong and determined or a combination of the three.
There were exceptions but, for the most part, that was the rule.
The Italians haven't had a problem with that type of team because they knew what they were going to get. The Italians would absorb pressure, assign their nasty defenders -- they had many -- to the big strikers and attach a pitbull midfielder to the leg of Matthaeus, or whomever.
Italy's problems in the past have been provided by teams that are mobile and move the ball around the pitch with patience. A team that never knows when and who is going to attack.
This German team is different in makeup than teams of the past. It's much more difficult to focus on one or two individuals. With Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil roving around, they have three players who are dangerous with the ball. Khedira is one of the best holding mifielders and both he and Schweinsteiger are tough as nails.
Germany also has a pretty good bench it can call on.
At the back, Philipp Lahm can move up and down the field and, while he's a little bit of a liability defensively, he has a wonderful young Mats Hummels to clean up his mess.
It also looks as if Italy may be in a little injury trouble with key midfielder Daniele DeRossi and back Ignazio Abate facing fitness tests to see if they can play Thursday. Giorgio Chiellini will be back but how healthy the centre back is remains to be seen,
This isn't to say that Italy can't do it again and beat Germany. Just as Spain had to do when it beat Italy for the first time in years and went on to win the Euro title in 2008, so does Germany have to get over that hurdle.
"We believe in ourselves and the goal is to return to Germany with the title," Ozil said. "That's why we are here and I'm convinced we can do it. But we are concentrating on the here and now. We are looking forward to the semi, which will be very difficult. But we are confident we can beat anybody."
Germany has the talent to do it.
That "anybody" Ozil mentioned, though, includes Italy. There's no doubt Ozil believes what he's saying, but believing and doing are two different things.