Tuesday 6 December 2016

‘Fever Pitch’ gets Azzurri fired up to to inflict more pain on Germans

Sam Wallace

Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30

Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the EURO 2012 semi final match between Germany and Italy. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Head coach Antonio Conte of Italy speaks to the media. Photo: Handout/UEFA via Getty Images

There is a popular Italian film that is set around the country’s best-remembered tournament victory over West Germany, simply called Italia-Germania 4-3. It’s a kind of Italian Fever Pitch and it was released 20 years after that magical semi-final in Mexico City at the 1970 World Cup.

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The match at the Azteca Stadium, won in a thrilling extra-time period by Gianni Rivera’s goal, has that sort of status in Italy, one of those where-were-you-watching occasions that unites the nation and has people of a certain age going a bit misty-eyed.

West Germany's golakeeper Sepp Maier is beaten by Gianni Rivera's winning goal in extra time, as Rivera and Riva celebrate (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
West Germany's golakeeper Sepp Maier is beaten by Gianni Rivera's winning goal in extra time, as Rivera and Riva celebrate (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

The star of the film, Giuseppe Cederna, was also involved in the following year’s Oscar-winner Mediterraneo, which also concerns itself with the Germans, albeit the thornier issue of Italy’s Second World War allegiance with them.

Unlike England, with its solitary 50-year-old triumph, Italy is a nation with a lot of glorious national team heritage – there are four stars on the Azzurri shirt for four World Cup triumphs, and they also won the 1968 European Championship.

The 1970 semi-final with West Germany was a prelude to a comprehensive thumping at the hands of the great Brazil side, so it is not as if that is a chapter of the Italian history they need to linger upon.

In eight competitive tournament matches, going back to the 1962 World Cup finals, Italy have never lost a game to West Germany or the unified post-1990 Germany.

Italy's Mario Balotelli battles with Philipp Lahm as he scores his team's second goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the EURO 2012 semi final match. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Italy's Mario Balotelli battles with Philipp Lahm as he scores his team's second goal past Manuel Neuer of Germany during the EURO 2012 semi final match. Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Yet the 1970 semi-final is remembered in its own right, and ahead of today’s Euro 2016 semi-final in Bordeaux, it is definitely the Germans who are a lot more preoccupied with what they call the “Italy trauma”.

Never has there been a more obvious time for Germany to break the hex: they are the world champions and they are up against Antonio Conte’s Italy team, without a superstar among them.

Read more: Germany send out warning to Spain and Italy with Slovakia stroll

The Chelsea coach-in-waiting’s squad has suffered injuries to some of his best players, his team were written off at home before the tournament and yet they are still in there, still punching and driven on by a manager with a persecution complex.

The big German newspapers have been on the trail this week of the elusive Mario Balotelli, who scored twice against them in the first half of the semi-final of Euro 2012, eliminating a German side who were favourites to reach the final.

Balotelli was frozen out by Conte from the start and has never played for him. But the Germans have not forgotten his masterclass two years ago.

There was hope then that some more of the great Balotelli talent might be fulfilled, although Europe’s elite have since given up.

He is still a Liverpool player, although only in terms of his registration, and his one season at the club demonstrated why he is totally unsuited to the way of playing that Conte insists upon, with strict tactical discipline and selflessness.

There is some suggestion that Balotelli could be offloaded to Galatasaray this summer, but who knows what he will do next.

In Warsaw that evening his finishing was breathtaking and for a while the world was at the feet of the then 21-year-old Manchester City striker.

For Germany, the trauma goes deeper than just Balotelli. They lost 3-1 to Italy in the 1982 World Cup final and again in the semi-final of their home World Cup in 2006. In March this year, the teams met in a friendly in Munich and Joachim Löw’s team won 4-1.

Frustrated

At that time, Conte was frustrated with injuries and what he suspected were players pulling out of the team to save themselves for the end of the club season.

It was the first time they had lost to Germany in 21 years, and since then their resourceful manager has been using the result to his advantage.

Players have returned to their hotel rooms to find messages detailing the criticism of them by the Italian media after that defeat.

Nothing was said that was particularly controversial – just that here was an Italy team without outstanding players who would be an outside bet to go far at Euro 2016, although Conte interpreted it all as an unforgivable insult and apparently refers to it all the time.

He will know that this is the time the Germans expect finally to end the trauma inflicted by the Italians. They are up against the world champions who, despite their success in Brazil two years ago, have a major point to prove.

If Italy do win again it will undoubtedly be ugly and there is unlikely to be a movie in 20 years’ time, but it would be a remarkable achievement.

Telegraph.co.uk

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