Explaining the difference between Germany’s and Italy’s World Cup wins

This article was originally published on SerieAddicted.com, and excellent blog for all things Italian football.

As Germany evens Italy’s four World Cups, Brazil 2014 teaches us a lesson on the difference between Germany and Italy: the former win when they should, the latter win when they shouldn’t.

On the day in which Germany pulled even with Italy, winning their fourth World Cup (they both trail Brazil with five) the two European football giants have never been so distant. And this isn’t just because the Nationalmannschaft literally dominated this Brazilian edition while Italy languished miserably, failing to qualify for the R-16 for the second straight time.

This World Cup actually teaches us a lesson on how deeply different the Azzurri and the Germans are, even at football. Or better, this confirms it, because history, as of yesterday, was already pretty clear: the Germans win when they are supposed to win, when they are the strongest, when victory is the logic consequence of their work; Italy, instead, win when nobody would bet a single cent on them, and when they have their back against the wall with no rear exit available.

This Title is the product of perfect planning and organisation by the Germans. The seeds of this yield were planted back in 2006, or maybe even in 2002, when Germany lost the final with Ronaldo’s Brazil – perhaps for the first and only time in modern history as underdogs (1954 is the other exception).

Despite becoming World Champions in 1990, and winning a Euro Cup in 1996 (remember Bierhoff’s golden goal?), the Germans were able to read the worrying messages of the Euro 2000 debacle-one point and one goal scored in three games, and studied a new plan involving both the clubs and the federation, to anticipate a possible epidemic to the whole system.

The result? A WC final in 2002; a semifinal in 2006 (lost against Italy); a final in Euro 2008; a semifinal in South Africa in 2010; another Euro semifinal (another, unexpected, loss to Italy) in 2012; and a won final last night in the “Cup of Cups”, with a goal scored by Mario Götze, a player who wasn’t even born to see Lothar Matthäus lift their previous Cup in Rome only 24 years ago.

If we look at their other two modern era titles, in 1974 and in 1990, we see a similar pattern. They reached the final in 1966 – lost on a phantom goal to England in England-, a semifinal in Mexico 1970 in what was defined as the Game of the Century, i.e. Italy-Germany 4-3, and then finally won the Cup on home soil in 1974 as great favourites. Then another final in 1982 (loss to Italy), in 1986 (loss to Argentina), and finally the 1990 win in Italy.

Overall, this adds up to 13 semifinals in 18 appearances in the World Cup. Simply astonishing, and it tells a lot on their perseverance: every victory (again, except 1954) has been preceded by several lost semifinals and finals, but they’ve kept pushing, until they finally reached a deserved and almost predictable glory. They’ve almost had the consistency of a dead man’s EKG, although never before has a football system been so lively.

The anatomy of Italian success is very different. Rarely have the Azzurri won when they were expected to. It happened in 1934 and 1938, but football has changed a lot since then. Again, if we look at the modern era sport, Italy managed to reach the final in 1970 after failing to qualify for the 1958 World Cup (first and only time they didn’t make it to the final stage )and after being knocked out in the group stage for two consecutive editions (1962, 1966), exactly like in 2010 and 2014. Most of all though, Italy managed to win titles in 1982 and 2006, that is, amid the greatest scandals of Italian football’s history: Totonero and Calciopoli.

After a highly successful 1978 campaign, Italy should have been one of the favourites in Spain in 1982. However in 1980 the Guardia di Finanza uncovered a match-fixing scandal that involved some of the most important players and clubs, including Milan, Lazio, Bologna and Paolo Rossi. Yes, that Paolo Rossi. He was suspended for three years, reduced to two years in appeal.

He was back on the field in May 1982, just a few weeks before the World Cup. Enzo Bearzot included him in Italy’s 22, despite general skepticism. Italy’s start was slow, they drew three games with Poland, Peru and Cameroon, and went to the second group stage (the WC format was different back then) on goal difference. At that point they picked Brazil, considered by many as the best Brazilian team ever, and Argentina, the title holders with a young Maradona. The press and the public opinion thrashed the team, who decided to avoid every press conference and every interview until the end of the event, delegating the very concise and zen captain Dino Zoff.

Amid all these difficulties, the group grew stronger and stronger, and we all know how it ended: six goals in the last three games for Rossi, 3-1 win in the final against Germany, third Cup for Italy. More or less like in 2006, when just before the World Cup kick-off, the Calciopoli scandal broke out. Fans and media asked for several heads to roll off, including those of Buffon, Cannavaro and Lippi, apparently involved in the scandal (they weren’t). Italy were made fun of by the foreign press, nobody believed in them. Nobody except Lippi and the team itself, which would go on to win the fourth World Cup in Italy’s history in Germany.

As opposed to Germany’s consistency, Italy has always had peaks (and troughs) in performance, like a roller-coaster. They only sometimes perform when they have the best team, and they never win when they are favorites. Take the 1990s: Serie A was by far the best league, and Italy probably had their best generation of talents, in every section of the field: Baggio, Baresi, Maldini, Bergomi, Mancini, Vialli, Zenga, Pagliuca, Tassotti, Donadoni, Zola, Cannavaro, Nesta, Del Piero, Vieri and Buffon. Despite this they couldn’t win in Italy in 1990, they couldn’t beat one of the weakest Brazilian teams in the final in 1994, and they lost to the hosts in the quarter finals in France ’98. In 2002, with another very solid team, led by Totti, Vieri and Maldini, they lost to South Korea.

What’s certain, is that Italy thrives amid criticism, and seems to feed itself off of problems in an almost incomprehensible way, while Germany’s success always makes perfect sense. There’s never been such thing as a “surprising victory” by the Germans, in the same way as there’s never been an “inevitable” win for Italy.

At this point in history, despite the different paths they took, they both stand beside each other with four Cups, with no equals expect Brazil. Germany, with an average age of 26.3 (sixth youngest in Brazil), can reasonably give it another shot in four years’ time, whilst history seems to be the only reason to smile for Italians, as they find themselves in a seemingly unsolvable crisis of their entire football system.

Well, maybe not the only reason. After all, aren’t these the perfect premises for a Germany-Italy final in 2018?

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