It was the 1970 World Cup semi-final. Now Italian manager Cesare Prandelli recalls where he was that day. “I watched it at home on TV with my father and it was the greatest emotion I’d got from football.” They’d defeated the Germans to face Brazil in the final. And it didn’t end there.
Fast forward twelve years to 1982 World Cup final in the Santiago Bernabeu. The famous commentary exclaimed “Marco Tardelli, two nil to Italy,” and thus Italy won its third World Cup. Germany left blushing, after a 3-1 loss.
More recently, the 2006 World Cup semi-final held in Germany saw yet again the Italian hoodoo rear its head. And with a Del Piero extra-time winner, led Italy to their fourth World Cup triumph and continued their unbeaten streak against Germany.
A hoodoo that has since lasted for more than 30 years; an achievement not many international sides can share. Germany’s stereotypical efficiency in international tournaments doesn’t precede them once against Italian opposition.
But even more convincing is Italy’s record in semi-finals, winning eight out of a possible ten. Italy’s squad may not match those of the past, but Italy are still the most tactically adept side in the tournament. Proven with Prandelli’s alteration of tactics, from using a 4-3-1-2 in qualifying, which saw them lead the possession stats just behind Spain — then days before the tournament trying out a 3-5-2. a formation that exploited Spain’s lack of width. However, it wasn’t as successful against Croatia after 45 minutes, leaving Prandelli reverting to the tried and trusted 4-3-1-2 that was most successful against England. It demonstrated England’s lack of dynamism in midfield. The rotating midfield square of Pirlo, De Rossi, Marchisio and Montolivo used the space between England’s infamous two banks of four, and dictated the game with a passing percentage of 68%, compared to England’s 32%.
German internationals are aware of the threat Italy poses against them. Philip Lahm said before the quarter-final against England-Italy that “[He] would prefer England.” Lahm added “Italy are better than England. They’re more cunning, better prepared tactically, more difficult to beat.” How much of this is the fear Germany feels toward Italy?
But German international Lukas Podolski believes “It’s the time to break that series. One thing is clear – we want to be in the final, so we have to beat the Italians. Therefore, this will hopefully be the end for Italy in this European Championship.”
Germany looked impressive after a slick performance against the Greeks, resting the front three that have played all of the group stage fixtures. Showing Joachim Low’s belief in the depth of his team, as international captain Philip Lahm said, “We have 23 very good players and everybody can play in this team.”
Similarly to Italy, Germany has demonstrated their adaptability in differing situations, whether it is with personnel or tactics.
Germany may be seen as heavy favourites, through their attacking verve and seemingly efficient self — efficiency never more professed by Low’s training technique of passing under 2 seconds, keeping the ball moving and the game fast.
Starkly, after Pirlo’s influential display against England, Low has made outlandish comments such as “If you stop Pirlo, you stop Italy.” An overly simplistic view of Italy, as demonstrated against Spain. Italy’s distribution may come from other sources, such as De Rossi in a sweeper role, where his performance has been compared to Beckenbauer.
But in this tournament, rules have been broken.
With the clash highly anticipated by neutrals and fans of opposing sides, it’s poised to be an enthralling match. May a new Tardelli be born, or will Germany take the monkey that is Italy off their back, and prove “[They] are the team to beat,” as Marco Reus said.