Germany go up against Italy in Thursday’s Euro 2012 semifinal as the side much fancied to win the tie and joint-favourites to win the whole shebang.
Joachim Loew’s young squad has an aura about it that gives promise of this generation going on to create history. That is something they will have to do in order to reach a second-straight European Championship Final.
In seven previous competitive meetings against Italy, Germany have never won any of them. For an international footballing powerhouse like the Mannschaft to have such a negative record against anyone—even the great Azzurri—is alarming.
The fortunes of the West German and unified nation’s football team down the years have not exactly been littered with failure, but three of their biggest heartbreaks have come at the hands of the country on the other side of the Alps.
The first was the astonishing World Cup semifinal in 1970. A 4-3 win for the Italians in front of more than 100,000 fans at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium was secured after a frantic period of extra time in which five goals were scored. No wonder it is known in the heart of Europe as “Jahrhundertspiel;" in the boot of the continent as “Partita Del Secolo;" and to the rest of us as the “Game of the Century."
The second was in the final of the same competition 12 years later—this time in Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. After a goalless first half, Italy scored three times—with Marco Tardelli celebrating after scoring his team’s second with that tearful celebration that has become so iconic, and rendering Paul Breitner’s late strike a mere consolation.
The third, and most recent, occasion in which Italy stomped all over Germany’s World Cup dreams was in 2006 in their own backyard—again at the semifinal stage. With the final minutes of extra time ticking down, late goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero in Dortmund sent the Azzurri on their way to their fourth World Cup triumph—taking them past Germany as the most successful European side in the competition’s history. It is a mark of how much both nations have moved on that a total of just nine players from those two squads from six years ago are in this tournament, too.
In the European Championships, too, the Germans have not been able to break that hoodoo. A 1-1 draw in 1988 and a goalless stalemate eight years later both came in the group stages. Neither were classic installments of this massive European rivalry, even if the latter saw the Azzurri eliminated after Gianfranco Zola missed a penalty at Old Trafford.
Thursday's meeting has a whole lot more at stake and promises to deliver a clash worthy of such a great international fixture.
Of course, the present conditions point to little more than a German victory at the Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy. The team in white have won each of their last 15 competitive games in a run stretching back to the 2010 World Cup.
Up to the semifinal stage, Germany had scored the most goals with nine, while Italy’s four goals represent the lowest total of any team to reach the last four of a Euro Cup since 1996. Mario Gomez’s personal haul of three goals at the tournament so far is as many as all of Italy’s strikers have scored collectively.
For all the undoubted talent in the Italian squad, anyone’s player-for-player comparison of the two starting lineups will heavily favour Germany.
But football is full of anomalies such as this. It is somewhat reassuring to know that even the greatest of sides has a bogey team.
The odds may be stacked in Germany’s favour, but the weight of history threatens to see Italy crush their dreams once again.