Semifinal could be thing of beauty

Players of Germany's national soccer team listen to coach Joachim Loew during a practice session of...

Players of Germany's national soccer team listen to coach Joachim Loew during a practice session of the team at the stadium in Warsaw, June 27, 2012. (REUTERS)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

WARSAW - Never expect too much. That way you aren't disappointed when it doesn't happen.

It's tough to do when you are passionate about something.

Welcome to the world of the soccer fan.

Take hockey. Teams get a chance to play a rival several times a year. At the international level, in a Canada Cup or world championship or Olympics, Canada plays Russia or the United States usually at least once a year.

That doesn't happen in international soccer. Depending on how major tournaments play out, teams may go years without playing a rival in a game that means something.

Italy played Germany recently but it was only a friendly. The last time the teams met in a game that meant something was the 2006 World Cup semifinal. That was six years ago.

Imagine Canada-Russia or Canada-United States meeting on the ice once every six years.

How much would you be looking forward to that contest?

You can only get excited about Italy playing Estonia or Germany playing Faroe Islands so many times.

Italy and Germany meet Thursday in the Euro 2012 semifinal. Two traditional soccer powers, rivals in every way, playing in what is a massively important game.

No matter how much the brain tells you to calm down and take it easy, the heart starts to pump, imagination takes over and you begin to actually imagine what's going to happen.

A 2-2 game, late in the second half, with goaltenders making great saves. The crowd is going berserk and someone constructs a late winner.

The reality is most often far different.

While the fans are slavering in anticipation of the big game, the two teams are so frightened of losing that they refuse to play. It turns into a dog, like the first semifinal between Portugal and Spain.

Players take forever to put the ball in play, they don't want come forward because they worry of leaving gaps behind them, the players are suddenly made of glass and with every minimal touch they fall to the ground like they've been shattered.

They play hoping they somehow squeeze out a win rather than playing to win.

Meanwhile, the only thing that is really shattered is the joy and anticipation soccer had for that game.

There's plenty of anticipation for Italy-Germany. Both teams have a lot to play for because, unlike the last two tournaments, Spain is very beatable. The team that makes the final will have a better-than-average shot at winning.

If you believe the coaches of the two teams, they intend to play the same way they have all tournament regardless of the importance of the game.

If that's the truth and not some sort of public relations crap, then Germany will attack.

"We have no intention of changing the way we play," said German coach Joachim Loew. "We are perfectly capable of beating any team in the world the way we play. We don't have to change."

Be still my fluttering heart! Please don't lie! Please don't lie!

Italian coach Cesare Prandelli can either be a stick in the mud and just defend, or he can be a contributor to what might be a great game and play his part in making this special.

"We have to take risks and not defend in our penalty area," he said. "I'd prefer it if they (Germany) scored on the counter-attack than have us defend constantly for 20 minutes."

Be still my fluttering heart! Please don't lie! Please don't lie!

All you need to look at are the last two tournament finals. Spain defeated Germany 1-0 in the 2008 Euro final in what was an average game at best. Spain then defeated the Netherlands 1-0 in the 2010 World Cup final in a nasty little piece of business that wasn't worth the price of admission.

Those were two highly anticipated games that turned into 90 minutes of miserable soccer.

Whether it's my heart taking over or not, there's a feeling that Thursday's game is going to live up to the anticipation.

It would be great for this tournament, which has had plenty of good games but hasn't yet produced a head-spinning, finger-chewing, throw-a-brick through the television, sit-in-your-car-in-the-garage-and honk-your-horn kind of game.

It's a deserved reward for fans that have waited six years for these big boys to meet again.


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