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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Euro 2012 Semi-final: Can Germany End Their Italy Hoodoo?


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So you think England have a complex about facing Germany? That's nothing compared to the way that the Germans feel when Azzuri blue shirts come into view. Bear in mind that Germany (and West Germany) expect to win matches. They are serial winners and finalists at international level - but only when they avoid the Italians.

Seven times the National mannschaft have come across Italy in major tournaments and on each occasion they failed to fashion a victory. That really is a monumental statistic when the quality and stature of German teams is taken into account. Indeed, it's almost freakish.

Most recently, Italy spoiled Germany's chances in their own World Cup, winning 2-0 in the 2006 semi-final. Several of the current German side were involved that day and manager Joachim Loew was Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant.

Further back, Italy ended West German hopes in the 1982 World Cup Final - much to the delight of the football world it has to be said, as that German side was particularly unloved after the Schumacher incident in the semi-final with France and a generally stodgy style of play.

In 1970 the two teams played out an epic semi-final in the heat of Mexico with Franz Beckenbauer playing on in a sling and the catenaccio-loving Italians going against type to run out 4-3 winners. Two other World Cup Finals matches which weren't knockout games ended in 0-0 results.

In 1988 the pair played out a careful 1-1 draw in their group at the Euros and both teams qualified for the knockouts - and in England at Euro 96 there was another 0-0, though it hardly benefited Italy as they failed to exit the group and of course West Germany went on to win the tournament.

So at tournament level its three wins to Italy and four draws. That mediocre record holds in all their meetings over the years with German sides taking just seven wins in 30 fixtures. From an English point of view it seems incredible that any side can compile such a record against Germany.

The Italian view is that excellent German teams over the years lacked the tactical dexterity to overcome Italian sides well versed in adapting their game to stifle the opposition. Which sets this clash up nicely, because the current German side is playing a very different brand of football that has flexibility at its core.

Old cliches hardly apply. In times past the Azzuri would set up shop to defend and nick a goal but their game is far less defensive and in modern football the darker arts that their defenders excelled in draw down far greater punishment.

The form book says Germany by some margin but most of the legends of German football suffered at the hands of Italy in the past and the Azzuri have often gone a long way in tournaments without being the best team. If the scores stay level late in the game, German nerves might jangle a bit.

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Hugh Larkin

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