After Spain's epic shootout victory over Portugal on Wednesday, the fans will likely get what they want from Germany and Italy on Thursday: a more interesting, less suspenseful spectacle.
The mighty Germans are aiming to score a fifth consecutive win at Euro 2012 after decimating every opponent that has stood in their path, and Italy figures to be their latest victim.
Germany is the strongest team remaining at Euro, and Italy is the weakest. Of all four teams that remained in the semifinals, Italy emerged from the group round with the fewest points (five) and now faces the team that has proven impossible to beat.
Germany, alternately, came out of the strongest group without a single loss and has outscored opponents 9-4 in four games. Since losing to Spain in the semifinals of the 2010 World Cup, this team has won 15 consecutive competitive games. If it wins on Thursday (2:45 p.m. ET, ESPN), it will give the world the final it expected to see and wants to see.
And given the fact that Italy played its most recent game on Sunday—and that game happened to be a hard-fought shootout win over England—and the fact that Germany last played nearly a week ago, Germany has another clear advantage over Italy: more rest.
According to the New York Daily News, German coach Joachim Loew plans to exploit Italy's fatigue by using a speedy attack to tire out the Italians even further.
He told the Daily News:
Maybe in the second half we will raise the tempo to make them a little bit more tired, who knows? That might be good for us, I think. … I am really looking forward to this match. These are knock-out games where you have to throw in everything you have. We have a very strong team and are able to conquer Italy and reach the final.
Loew did give Italy its due. He admitted that the team got stronger as Sunday's game progressed while its opponent got much weaker, and he said that winning a game like that automatically boosts a team's energy and confidence.
But he's still not short on confidence when it comes to his own team, which, he told the Daily News, is "perfectly capable of beating any team in the world." Since 2010, nobody has proven him wrong.
How much will that tempo change impact the outcome of this game? By Germany's estimation, a lot. Germany is one of the few teams at Euro that hasn't had much trouble scoring goals, and its attack has gotten stronger as the tournament has progressed.
Italy, alternately, has played to three draws or shootouts at Euro and has only scored four goals in four games while allowing two. This is already a team that has proven to have trouble putting the ball in the net, and it is coming off a game in which it played 120 minutes and had to go to a shootout.
Loew is smart to call for an increase in tempo; there's no better way to win this match than to relentlessly come at Italy and force it to fight back.
In the end, it might just not have enough left in the tank to fight.
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