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Thursday June 28 2012
Winning the Italian way

Italy produced a heroic performance to defeat Germany for a place in the Euro 2012 Final. Rob Paton reflects on what made the difference.

Italy produced a remarkable 90 minutes in Warsaw’s National Stadium this Thursday to upset the odds and deservedly take a place in Sunday’s tournament Final with defending champions Spain.

Facing this Germany side had been somewhat suffocating for opponents in the past two years and going into the game, Italy knew they had a task to defeat them. From oppressive closing of space to the mixture of direct, fast passing and patient, intricate play, this particular Mannschaft had breezed through Euro 2012 qualifying, the group stages and quarter-final, allowing opponents little space on the pitch and even less time in which to think. It had been oppressive nature mixed with a technical flair that going into this semi-final had won them many plaudits, seen them break the world record for consecutive competitive wins and had them as outright favourites to progress to the Final. Italy, it seemed, had been overlooked and, as their own admittance that previous history counted for little, were perhaps anticipating an uphill task.

Subsequently, for Bild’s headline earlier in the week ‘Nothing can stop us now’ and Mesut Ozil’s rather disrespectful declaration that the camp was already thinking of the Final, the opening 20 minutes or so at the National Stadium proved to be going to script as Italy struggled to gain a foothold in play.

Germany’s midfield and attack was flexible, providing limited reference points for Azzurro shirts to track and notably they were using the entire width of the pitch and both sides of it from which to probe and press at the Italians. At the same time, this same selection of Germans then narrowed their shape when out of possession - Andrea Pirlo and Leonardo Bonucci’s failed early passes symptomatic of very little space afforded to Prandelli’s side. It was as it had been for previous opponents to Germany - suffocating - and as un-German as Low’s side had been labelled, their control was looking again ominously characteristic of German nature in football.

Yet, true to Prandelli’s pre-match promise, Italy’s own ambitions to play to their style and preference remained in place and, with some prompting from the Coach himself from the sidelines, it was perhaps why they eventually were able to play their way back into the first half and open the scoring. Germany may have had a hand around Italy’s neck, but with Prandelli’s cajoling of his players to push forward as normal, the Azzurri’s lack of oxygen wasn’t followed by a lack of thought.

And as much as anything, for Germany’s recent good work in convincing opponents, pundits and even themselves this week that their ability as a unit was unmatchable, Prandelli will have had in the back of his mind the long-running debate pre-tournament over the quality of their centre-backs. From Mats Hummels being pulled out of position by Antonio Cassano’s clever turn to Holger Badstuber being caught ball-watching to miss Mario Balotelli’s presence, Prandelli and Italy’s persistence to attack and to test this theory proved to be the breakthrough, and the turning point in the contest.

All of a sudden, from having the ascendancy and almost forcing the opener through sheer Azzzuro nerves, the Germans, who were the youngest squad at the tournament, for the first time in the tournament began to look like the youngest squad. Claudio Marchisio should have done better from a half-chance almost immediately after Balotelli’s opening goal, whilst the rhythm and importantly the movement to the Germans’ play dissipated in an uncharacteristic state of panic. Perhaps as the correct reason for the ‘un-German’ tag, this drop in concentration was highlighted not only by the mis-controlled passes between each other, but crucially also the failure to reorganise in time for Riccardo Montolivo’s simple but well-executed lofted pass to set Balotelli away for goal number two. It manifested further in the second half, as an increasingly desperate Germany pushed forward with little success and still struggled to prevent Italy passing back through them time and again.

Important was Italy’s dedication to this passing play. They could not sit back and defend as had been tradition in past meetings between the two nations, theirs was not a defence that could guarantee a clean sheet to such an opponent. So, whilst their attitude as a collective unit ultimately proved to the difference, it was not through a manifestation of catenaccio, but rather through workrate, both without the ball to win it back and with it to move their opponents around.

Italy, in maintaining this dedication to a plan A style of play that had served them well up to this point, were obstinately tenacious throughout the 90. A characteristic of Prandelli’s work with the group, theirs has been a tenacity that during a difficult pre-tournament has united and focused the players to take them to this semi-final. It is a tenacity that left tournament top-scorers Germany looking short of ideas in attack, regularly troubled at the other end and not like the team that had had two days of extra preparation. It is also a tenacity that can give fans hope heading into Sunday’s final, that anything is possible. Most importantly, it is a tenacity that whilst displayed by an Azzurri playing most un-Italian football, is still very Italian in style and nature.

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Have your say...
"They could not sit back and defend as had been tradition in past meetings between the two nations"

Italy have never sit back against the Germans, and not just them. When did you see them sitting bakc: 1970, 1982, 2006? This desire (I don't know how to call it) to Re-writte the history of italian football, falling again and again into cliches and stereotypes is becoming ridiculous.
on the 3rd July, 2012 at 5:32pm
Celebrations after the penalty shoot out vs England reminded us of 2006 final. It is our time again. Forza AZZURRI.........
on the 1st July, 2012 at 9:04am
Magnificent performance from The Azzurri. As a Juventus fan I am particular proud of the six Bianconeri. Gigi is clearly not only the best goalkeeper in the world, but as a leader he is without rival. Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini were like a blue brick wall, Marchisio ran himself into the ground and Pirlo was again pure class. Spain will obviously be the hardest game yet, but I see no other result than an Azzurri victory and the sight of Gigi hosting the trophy high would be just joyous.
on the 30th June, 2012 at 4:15am
This Azzurri side has made Italian Football proud again...not only have they reached the final, but they have got there with real grit and determination laced with the most wonderful attacking flair that has classic Italian technique stamped all over it...that have been a joy to watch..FORZA AZZURRI, as a paper said last week..I LEONI SIAMO NOI!
on the 30th June, 2012 at 2:52am
Gli Azzurri and Juventus are forever partnered. Last great Juve was 2006. Now they are returned. La Nazionale go as Juve goes. No thanks to Inter. They tried to kill both off. Cannot forget so easily.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 4:27pm
I said it three weeks ago and I'll say it again, win or lose we'll do it as a team. Even whilst all of the british media are now salivating over the previously "past it and slow" andrea pirlo they are still missing the point that every player on the team gives of themselves fully. We are not favourites. We are not the most talented team but WE ARE ITALY AND WE ARE IN THE FINAL!!!! FORZA AZZURRI!!!!!!!!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 4:01pm
This italia side showed true grit,inproving as with each game and would be a shame not to win it as i think the,ve been the best team. After s/africa,s dissater we need to b back at the top were we belong...viva l,italia
on the 29th June, 2012 at 3:28pm
It is clear none of the Brit or American commentators has watched a minute of Serie A this season nor seen a Juventus game. Azzurri are playing the Juve style the same way Spain play the Barca style.

You would think people paid to comment on INTERNATIONAL FUTBOL watch football would actually watch something other than the Prem, the CL and Real and Barca.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 12:08pm
BTW, Germany defense was suspect all Tourney. Why did everyone write Italy off? No, pundits, it was NOT German failings, they were simply schooled on futbol by the Azzurri.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 12:04pm
PAOLO BALO!

BALO ROSSI!

Can it really be 1982 all over again?

Once again a whiff od scandal, once again a team made up of superb Juve players, once again our striker coming to life in the knockout rounds. The parallels are there, now go for it boys?

What will the Conductor do on Sunday? Masterful so far. Beats Germany with a makeshift lineup, already gave Spain all it can handle, so what will the encore be Cesare?
on the 29th June, 2012 at 12:03pm
congrats italy,i love the way you play football,you are a joy to watch and you are peerless defenders.andre pirlo is a genius all your players are excellent footballers.it should be a great final.im from ireland so maybe we are not that bad considering two teams in our qualifying group are in the final.
john
on the 29th June, 2012 at 11:52am
What a game!! But we almost lost it in the end, I could understand Buffon's anger at the end. They should have killed it off earlier, Di Natale had a chance which I was sure would go in, hit the side netting and Marchisio did have his fair share of chances. I believe this formation isn't getting the best out of him, but he did work hard and was exhusted by the end? Still it aint over yet and Spain will be a whole different ball game! FORZA ITALIA!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 11:47am
What joy.... And ppl I hold my hands up that I doubted balo.. But well done. Hope he carries on smiling and keeps in check, 1 more goal and he'll finish top scorer..
Forza italia.
Forza pirlo....
on the 29th June, 2012 at 11:00am
In spite of all the German machinations, Italy did not need an Audi, a Porsche or even a Ferrari: they won by Fiat.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 10:50am
Grande Italia!

We've had our English Breakfast, and Würstel for lunch. Now its Paella for tea!

Prandelli deserves all the plaudits for being a masterful tactician, highlighting the importance of football being a team game, and no more has this been shown than by 'gli Azzurri'. An orchestra of football with Prandelli as its conductor, Pirlo as its concertmaster and, dare I say it. Balotelli as its principal trumpet (Forza Balo!)

Viva il sogno. Viva Italia!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 10:07am
It was a great game, yet I wish we had killed off Germany and avoided those nervy last five minutes – I can understand Buffon stormy off at the end. However we live to fight another day (game)
on the 29th June, 2012 at 9:54am
Mario went as a boy & will come back a MAN

GO SUPER MARIO
on the 29th June, 2012 at 9:54am
@Liban. A. Geddi

"I knew all juventus players are better then any ather italian players, "


Calm down Son, Good job ITALY and ALL players.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 9:04am
I'm still buzzing, haven't slept all night! regardless of what happens on Sunday I am very proud to be Italian

****
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:56am
Great performance! I was screaming at Prandelli again putting poor subs on. Nocerino & Giovinco had to come on. Nocerino is fresh & better in an advance midfield role than Motta. Gio has fitness & pace to take pressure off the mid & defence; also considering both are unlikely to feature in final, meant it was to Italy's advantage to play them, I see a really exhausted midfield going into the final & Prandelli should have acted on this at 1/2 time, very poor management from him.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:41am
The defense is still the strongest and would be boasting a good record but for the dubious penalty.

Pirlo continues his spellbinding magic, as Balo finally arrives on the big stage. Soldier on Azzuri. Cant wait for the next FIFA rankings.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:33am
And u have to give credit to Chiellini for rolling his socks down! Just like in the 70's & 80's great defenders! True grit. Legend for getting dirty with it!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:27am
Having followed & watched Juve all year it was so obvious that Italy wud be really hard to beat. There are 6 Juve starters all the time. All in the same area. All Juve were creative for much as the year. Not sure why the whole world it wasnt know or figured out..
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:22am
I am so proud of the Azzurri that I'm lost for words. They played the perfect game. Balo was superb in front of goal, Monty layed an excellent through ball for the 2nd goal & the defenders defended with grit & integrity.
Even the gift of a penalty couldn't break them down...

FORZA ITALIA, I wish you all the best & know come 1 July 2012 you will be crowned European Champions !!!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 8:12am
all i can say is that we have made the pundits eat their words from 2010 world cup if we got nobody coming through the ranks how is it we are in another final but i think they said that 2 yrs ago to make england look on a equal level
forza azzuri lets win this so we can party in bedford again like last nite and 2006
on the 29th June, 2012 at 7:32am
FORZA JUVE FORZA ITALIA !!!!!!!!!!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 7:12am
Italy are getting Stronger Roberto Martinez thinks Italy cant beat Spain with 4 at the back. Dont change to accompdate Spain. Let them change for Italy. Super Mario was brilliant but also think Monty is starting to come good with his run. Everyone has continued to right us of and I hope the continue to. Its great being ITALIAN. FORZA AZZURRI. Hope both channels get an Italian on their panel to balance the views. ITV please take note.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 7:05am
Balotellis' haters what are you blabbering on him ? God willing the time of vengeance against Spain has come. For Azzuri
on the 29th June, 2012 at 7:03am
Greetings from Canada. Wonderful footbal today. The Azzurri performance was masterful. Solid in all areas (except for missed chances at the end).
on the 29th June, 2012 at 4:32am
BMW and MERCEDEZ today will start to install automatic tears wiper in the car. Forza Azzuri
on the 29th June, 2012 at 4:29am

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