UEFA Euro 2012 Semifinals: 10 Bold Predictions for Germany vs. Italy
After Germany got past the parked bus of Greece and Italy pulled off a huge win in a shootout over England, we have an epic semifinal matchup coming up on Thursday in Euro 2012.
With three and one European Championship triumphs, respectively, Germany and Italy will play for a spot in the final on July 1 against the winner of the Iberian Derby between Spain and Portugal.
The world is convinced that there will be a rematch of the 2008 final between Spain and Germany, but Italy are determined to prevent the Germans from getting there for a second straight tournament.
Here are 10 things to watch for in Thursday's big test of two of Europe's giants.
Low Will Go Back to Gomez Up Top
Mario Gomez is one of the best strikers in the world. That stunt of benching him, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller may have worked against Greece, but against Italy, they will need to have their strongest lineup on the pitch.
Gomez is tied with Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Mandzukic and Alan Dzagoev for the lead in the race for the tournament's Golden Boot with three goals.
Italy is a nation known throughout the history of the game as a country where a defensive style has dominated their ways. Germany will need their best goalscorer on the pitch.
Italy Will Not Play Scared
Everyone is predicting Germany to win this match. There are very few people who actually think that Italy will progress to the final, that Germany are too good for them, that Italy stand no chance against the team that is widely regarded as a team who is becoming the best in the world, a team that could easily win Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup.
A lot of teams can't handle that sort of situation and would easily fold up and be taken for a ride by Germany, like Greece were in the second half on Friday.
Italy are a better team than they are given credit for, and with proven champions like Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi, among others, they won't show fear and back down.
Think back to 2006. Germany, the hosts of the World Cup, were supposed to go all the way to make a deep run, while Italy weren't. They ended up meeting in the semifinals, which Italy won 2-0 in extra time before beating France in penalties in the final.
Italy have a great record against Germany in international tournaments. In seven meetings combined during the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship, Italy have never lost to the Germans. Four group stage meetings ended in draws while three knockout matches finished with Italy celebrating.
Germany may have come into this year's tournament as a favorite, but that doesn't mean every match is going to be easy.
Anyone who wasn't going to watch this expecting that Germany would walk all over the Azzurri should reconsider.
Manuel Neuer vs. Gianluigi Buffon Will Be an Epic Battle of Wills
This will be a goalkeeper matchup for the ages.
At one end is Manuel Neuer, the 26-year-old Bayern Munich star who along with England's Joe Hart is the face of the newest generation of star keepers.
At the other end is Gianluigi Buffon, the 34-year-old Juventus legend who since 1995 has been demonstrating why he is arguably the greatest goalkeeper of all time.
Two big teams, two big goalkeepers. With lethal scorers like Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski, Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli on the field on Thursday, these guys will have to make some big saves. This match won't be high scoring and in all reality could come down to a penalty shootout.
It will be an incredible battle between two of the world's best.
Bastian Schweinsteiger Won't Last the Entire Match
Bastian Schweinsteiger admitted that his ankle injury, which he suffered in February, has not healed properly and has been causing problems throughout the tournament.
The Bayern Munich star has played every minute, but clearly there are doubts over whether he can play on Thursday as the pain is getting worse, and the German camp is concerned.
Expect Schweinsteiger to start, but with the guaranteed physicality and the prospect of extra time, the 27-year-old is likely going to have to get off that ankle before long.
Andrea Pirlo Will Continue His Great Tournament
No player, besides arguably Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal, has been more valuable to their country in this tournament than Italy's Andrea Pirlo.
The numbers from the England game say it all. The 33-year-old ran 15.2 km and made 117 of Italy's 885 passes. He didn't commit a foul and was menacing leading the attack. Then, of course, there was his Panenka kick, which will likely not be forgotten anytime soon during the penalty shootout.
It seems that the older Pirlo gets, the more devastating he becomes. After leading Milan to the Scudetto in 2011, many slammed Milan for allowing him to leave for free to join Juventus in the summer. One year later, he's starring at Euro 2012 after leading Juventus to the Scudetto.
After every match, the media seems to be surprised at Pirlo's fantastic performance, but he is one of the great playmakers of all time. His form has been incredible over the last two years. Don't expect his form to suddenly disappear out of thin air.
Germany Will Strike First
The match will be back and forth, a battle of two teams that are strong defensively (as well as in attack), but eventually, the stalemate will end.
Germany have struck first in all four matches, and they'll make it five on Thursday.
Mario Gomez will return to the starting lineup and eventually grab his fourth goal of the tournament.
However, that first strike won't hold up for long...
Antonio Cassano Will Equalize, Sending the Match to Extra Time
Mario Balotelli keeps getting the headlines, but the small, quick Antonio Cassano will find a way to slip past the German defense and get the goal that sends Italy and Germany into extra time.
Cassano's presence at the tournament is a miracle in itself. After suffering a stroke at the end of October, there were those who doubted whether Cassano would ever play again, and that was only after it was found out that he would survive and recover.
However, Cassano did come back and finished the last month of the season in effective form for AC Milan.
He scored a brilliant header against Ireland that helped Italy progress. Expect him to not sit still after Germany take the lead. He'll find a way to get past Neuer and guarantee another half hour of stress for both countries.
The Match Will Go to a Shootout
After 120 minutes, this battle of Europe's finest will still be indecisive and we will be graced with the spirit and tension of a penalty shootout.
The players in this match are no strangers to a shootout. Italy, of course, have one in their short-term memory still, while several of the German players were part of the Bayern Munich squad which lost in a shootout to Chelsea in the Champions League final five weeks ago.
Two of Europe's best teams. Gianluigi Buffon vs. Manuel Neuer. A spot in the final on the line. This is going to be incredible.
Italy Pull the Upset
I have been predicting that Germany would win this tournament since Euro 2008 and have them pegged as the early favorite at the 2014 World Cup—however, upsets happen.
That prediction was made before fate put a tough German team against a momentous Italian team that can easily send a shockwave through the football world.
Neither side is unfamiliar with shootouts. Italy just played in one and many of Germany's star players play for Bayern Munich, who beat Real Madrid and lost to Chelsea in shootouts in the Champions League in the past two months.
Both teams have great finishers and a tremendous goalkeeper. It's going to be a battle. It may not be as long and agonizing as the shootout between Zambia and Cote d'Ivoire at the African Cup of Nations final in February, but it will be as entertaining.
Italy have a good track record in shootouts in major tournaments. Their magical run could certainly continue past Thursday.
If there's one thing that has been proven to be certain in recent European Championships, it is that anything is possible.
The Match Goes Down as One of the Greatest in European Championship History
A 1-1 draw through 120 minutes and a back and forth, intense shootout with an upset win that sends an underdog to the final—that about sums up the definition of a classic.
Italy and Germany have had several incredible battles at big tournaments. There is even a statue standing outside the Azteca in Mexico City to commemorate their battle at the 1970 World Cup.
The Euro 2012 semifinal will have people adding a new match to their list of favorite European Championship memories.