Cesar Prandelli's Italy side have an almighty test in front of them.
Joachim Loew's confident Germany outfit travel to Milan looking to build upon the performance that saw them notch five past Sweden. Can a traditionally tough Italian defence halt the prolific output from one of the 2014 World Cup favourites?
Let's consider exactly that with a breakdown of top players and key battles.
Mario Balotelli, Italy
He’s a joker, a liability, an irritant, but more than anything, Mario Balotelli is a goalscorer.
The AC Milan forward has managed to score four goals in 11 games for his club this season—reported by WhoScored.com—not a terrible record considering the Rossoneri’s hideous start to the Serie A campaign.
Balotelli also has previous goals against Germany.
As noted by Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail, the former Manchester City striker’s two goals knocked Low’s side out of Euro 2012 in a semifinal fixture that saw Balotelli produce one of his most unplayable performances to date.
His pace, power and willingness to shoot from anywhere caught DFB out that night, resulting in the famous "Hulk" celebration we have all come to love. Will we see a sequel at the San Siro?
Mario Goetze, Germany
Although not guaranteed to start, Mario Goetze could have a huge part to play in the absence of Bastian Schweinsteiger, reported by Reuters and via The Guardian.
The Bayern Munich maestro is beginning to hit his stride at the Allianz Arena, providing three assists and two goals in little game time across his last five matches, per WhoScored.com.
His pristine control, range of passing and dribbling skills can put Italy onto the defensive, providing attacking players such as Toni Kroos and Andre Schurrle with space on the wings.
Loew may use this match as an opportunity to see what Goetze can do against the best, something we should all be very excited about.
Andrea Pirlo vs. Mesut Ozil
This is set to be a classy battle of two ball-playing midfielders who can win the game for their respective nations.
Although Pirlo and Ozil are unlikely to come into direct contact too often—neither will exert themselves to tackle the other—their possession will come in the same area of the pitch.
Pirlo’s "regista" role will see him teeter along the halfway line, collecting possession and spraying passes across the pitch in a controlled fashion. Ozil can play a huge part in stopping this happening with his own distribution, which will certainly be more energetic than the display of his Turin-based colleague.
Should Ozil vigorously collect the ball, progress possession and dribble into attacking areas, Pirlo’s influence will significantly wane, cutting off a key point of supply for the hosts.
Ignazio Abate vs. Andre Schurrle
Andre Schurrle scored a fantastic hat-trick in Germany’s recent 5-3 win over Sweden, reported by Sky Sports. The Chelsea forward will look to build upon this display by giving Ignazio Abate a torrid time, something Prandelli must be wary of.
Abate’s explosive pace and willingness to get forward has a tendency to leave Italy exposed at the back. While Schurrle enjoys heading toward the centre on some occasions, he is likely to hug the left-wing to provide constant width against a packed Italian midfield.
With clever positioning and support from his peers, Schurrle can turn this into a night to forget for the home defence. Abate’s attacking ambition will be restricted if his rival continues to float around the flank, leaving the right-back vulnerable to unfavourable one-on-one situations.
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