Germany go out at the semi finals for the third time in four major tournaments after being beaten by an impressive Italian side. Löw’s team were unable to overcome a Balotelli brace in the first half, struggling to ever really get a grip on the game against a tactically disciplined and resolute Italian team. Ozil’s consolation penalty at the end was too little too late for a Germany team that for the most part were the makers of their own downfall in this game.
Lineups and Formations
Löw and his staff did the best to conceal the lineup from the press after his team sheet was leaked prematurely before the Greece game and surprised everyone with his changes when the lineups were announced. Low returned Gomez and Podolski to the lineup and to everyone’s surprise also gave Kroos his first start at the EUROs. It was a curious change because it changed the shape of the team from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3. He no doubt wanted to match Italy’s strong midfield with one of his own and theoretically it seemed like a good idea but dropping Klose, Reus, Schürrle and Müller all at once would prove detrimental.
Prandelli was forced to play Balzaretti at right back after losing Maggio to suspension and Abate failed to pass a late fitness test. Chiellini started in his place at left back. The rest stayed the same with Italy’s midfield and their playmaker Andrea Pirlo the biggest challenge for Löw.
Germany had a strong opening fifteen minutes and created some good chances early on. They came out energetically and enthusiastic to attack. Kroos’ corner in the fifth minute nearly led to the opener after Hummels directed the ball past Buffon but Pirlo was on the line to clear it. Germany’s pressure continued and Khedira played out a pass to the open Boateng on the right whose cross across the goal was almost deflected into Italy’s net by Barzagli. So far so good but that is also where Germany’s good opening ended.
Özil started to drift out to the right and Kroos fall back into the middle. This is what the lineup projected initially but it did not play out as expected. With Germany’s midfield preoccupied, Podolski and Gomez were virtually isolated and Özil was marginalized so their attack was all but dissipated. Kroos stayed closest to Pirlo but it was unclear whether he was supposed to man mark him or provide additional support in midfield. Either way, Germany were starting to lose their shape and looked disorganized.
Italy on the other hand slowly started taking control of the game and capitalized on Germany’s disorder after a mixup between Boateng and Hummels allowed Cassano to get a cross in from the left, Balotelli easily outpowering Badstuber to head home the opener. It was the first time Germany had trailed at the EUROs and the unfamiliar situation completely rattled the team. If they looked out of sync before they now were in complete panic. Passes went astray, players were out of position and Cassano and Balotelli were causing Germany all kinds of problems. Pirlo’s role was minimized but not enough to keep him out of the game, the playmaker constantly finding space on the left during the first half.
It wasn’t too long then before Italy exploited Germany’s nervousness and doubled their lead. After a corner Lahm kept Balotelli onside and Montolivo’s chipped pass put the striker one on one with Neuer. Just like that Germany were two goals down. No side had ever come back after trailing two goals at half time since Germany themselves did it in the 1976 semi final against Yugoslavia but if they were to repeat that Löw needed to correct his mistakes at halftime.
Sure enough, Löw quickly pulled Podolski and Gomez, who were barely involved in the first half, and put on Reus and Klose. Almost immediately the two added a spring in Germany’s step and with renewed urgency set out to chase the game. From the getgo this was going to be a risky proposition but it was a gamble they needed to take if they were going to salvage their EURO dream. There were glimpses of hope however when Reus pulled the ball back cleverly in the forty-ninth minute but Lahm’s shot went over the bar. Around the hour mark Reus was involved again when he hit the crossbar on a free kick.
Germany could have done with that kind of ingenuity in the first half as Reus again brought the best out of Özil and allowed him to play in his natural position behind the striker. Prandelli’s men did well to defend however and had their own chances several times on the break but a combination of poor finishing from the Italian striker and Neuer kept the game within reach. Löw gambled further twenty minutes from time when he brought on Müller for Boateng but Germany’s game was more desperate than diligent and Özil’s penalty in stoppage time came too late.
Jürgen Klinsmann summed it up best after the match, “They couldn’t control Pirlo, they couldn’t control Montolivo, they couldn’t control De Rossi – the game was lost in midfield.” Kroos’ inclusion may have been a prudent one but the gameplan overall was not well executed. Schweinsteiger, still appearing unfit, had another disappointing performance, while Khedira had too much to do on his own with Kroos seemingly drifting in and out of the game and position.
Cassano and Balotelli’s mobility lay in stark contrast to the static and dull Gomez and Podolski who not only hindered Germany’s game, they absolutely nullified it. Prandelli’s men were more patient, more tactically disciplined and knew their roles. Germany not only let their nerves affect them but they were also outplayed by a smarter and effective opponent despite all their efforts to get back into the game.
It is difficult to look back and not question Löw’s changes. While they worked well against Greece it may have been a bit too idealistic against Italy who played the game with the kind of patience that Germany sorely lacked. Löw’s lineup also limited Özil’s influence and with Gomez and Podolski starting deprived the team of their only source of creativity. Löw also failed to exploit Italy’s lack of width and with all the room in front of Chiellini and Balzaretti on offer did little to threaten them from the flanks.
If Löw did not outsmart himself here then Prandelli certainly did. His team had a gameplan from the beginning and followed through brilliantly. They kept Germany’s attack at bay for most of the match and won the important midfield battle to deservedly reach the final.
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