Germany vs Italy: Well, That was Nerve Racking
This was tagged as one of the biggest matches in the competition as the team with the best defense faced off against the dark horses of the tournament. Germany under Joachim Low had superbly gone through four games in the competition without conceding a goal but their general play has shown a team effort, with the goals coming from all corners. Italy on the other hand, had a club feel about them, as Antonio Conte had done really well to assemble a set of fighters that fit his 3-5-2 perfectly.
In order to match his opponent, Low switched from his usual 4-2-3-1 setup to 3-5-2, as Joshua Kimmich and Jonas Hector (that recovered from a cold) flanked Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Benedickt Howedes. With both teams fielding the same formation, the game was on lock down as both sides played a similar type of football. As expected, the Italians were the rougher of the lot with Stefano Sturaro, Mattia de Sciglio and Marco Parolo picking up bookings in quick succession.
After over an hour of deadlock, the game opened up when Mario Gomez found Hector in behind the defense and the defender drilled a cut back that was tapped in by Ozil. A resilient Italian defenders torn to shreds by a beautiful piece of attacking football.
The goal put Germany in the driving seat but it was followed shortly by an injury picked up by Gomez. Julian Draxler came on in his stead. With Italy pressing for an equalizer, they got their rewards late when an experienced defender like Boateng made such a rookie mistake by raising his arms to defend a ball in the box, leaving the ref no choice but to point to the spot. Up stepped Leandro Bonucci to smash the penalty home.
With the game producing no winner in 90 minutes, it was time for 30 more minutes but it wasn’t enough, so the game was to be decided by the lottery of penalty shootouts.
Lorenzo Insigne started the shootout with a spot kick that sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way to give the Italians the lead. Up stepped Toni Kroos, that had a stinker in 120 minutes of football but his penalty to left corner was too much for Gianluigi Buffon to handle.
Italy’s next spot kick taker, Simone Zaza, was the freshest player on the pitch and he had just one job to do from 12 yards but he came up with this…
Thomas Mueller had the opportunity to put the Germans ahead but his tame effort was saved by Buffon. The oldest outfield player in the tournament, Andrea Barzagli, 35, was tasked with playing the third penalty for his nation and he smashed the ball to the middle, taking no chances. After Barzagli gave the Italians the advantage, our very own Ozil stepped up and clipped the post with his penalty. That was the second spot kick he was missing in the tournament.
Graziano Pelle had the chance to make it 3-1 to Italy and put the Germans under intense pressure but the nerves got to him and he side-footed his effort wide off the mark, even though Neuer kept a close eye on the ball. Draxler fired his shot in the left post and leveled the shootout at 2-2.
With only one spot kick left for both sides, Bonucci, who had scored a penalty in regulation time, faced Neuer once again but the Bayern Munich goalie made a superb save to give the advantage to Germany. It was down to the captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger, to score the goal that would send Germany to the semis but he came up with this…
With both teams exhausting their spot kicks, it was time for sudden death. Emamuele Giaccherini started the proceedings with a top drawer finish and was pegged back by Hummels that fired his effort to the right of the net. Parolo blasted his effort through the middle and the youngest player on the pitch, Kimmich, showed good composure with a superb penalty that went low to Buffon’s left corner. De Sciglio’s penalty hit the underside of the bar and crept into the net and this was followed with a good penalty from Boateng.
With both teams locked at 5-5, up stepped Matteo Darmaian that fired a goal bound shot that was saved by the legendary Neuer. This meant that Hector could make himself a national hero and end Italy’s hoodoo on Germany if he converted his spot kick and he fired a shot that went under Buffon to send Germany to the semis.
The Germans celebrated while the Italians had to leave the tournament on the back of some brilliant team performances in the course of the competition. Conte would leave for Stamford Bridge to start a new adventure but he can look back on his experience with Juventus and Italy with some measure of pride.
As for Germany, they deserve to be where they are and the world champions would be waiting for the winner of the Iceland vs France match tonight.
It was nerve racking to say the least.
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