Saturday 20 July 2019

Germany end Italian hoodoo as Joachim Loew's side go through after penalty drama

Germany players celebrate winning the penalty shootout
Germany players celebrate winning the penalty shootout

Sam Wallace

They are the greatest penalty-taking nation in the history of the elite game, and this Germany team did not fail as they dispatched Italy from Euro 2016 after a in-out that finished at ten minutes to midnight and saw more drama than it usually takes for the world champions to win these things.

A place in the semi-final in Marseille on Thursday for Joachim Loew’s team when finally Jonas Hector dispatched the 18th penalty of the shoout-out past Gianluigi Buffon after Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian had his previous one saved. Three Germans had missed before then – including their goalscorer on the night Mesut Ozil – but Manuel Neuer saved twice over the course of the penalties to rescue them.

It meant Germany have broken the run of nine tournament games going back to 1962, in which their nation had lost to Italy but not before Antonio Conte’s team scored a 79th minute equaliser from the penalty spot through Leonardo Bonucci, after Jerome Boateng had conceded with his team on top. The Bayern Munich defender raised both arms in the air as he prepared to defend a cross and when the ball struck his arm the Hungarian referee Victor Kassai had no option.

The Arsenal playmaker Ozil had given Germany the lead with 20 minutes of the second half played, and his side not enjoying their usual dominance. The bookings started to flow with Mats Hummels getting a yellow card that means he will not play on Thursday.

This Germany attack has overwhelmed lesser defences, but Italy’s is arguably the finest in the tournament and they do not succumb easily to the pressure that the world chapions exert – that closing in of space, of territory stealthily accumulated until an opponent has nowhere to go.

Joachim Loew’s team controlled the game in all the normal ways they do in midfield, but not the areas that mattered to Italy. They never got around Antonio Conte’s defence in the first half and they could not find the space around the Italian area to shoot. 

The way in which Marco Parolo chased down Thomas Muller and dispossessed the striker after a 20-yard chase on 28 minutes demonstrated that there were certain areas that were forbidden for the Germans to stray into. There had been rumours before the game that Loew would play a three-man defence to balance up against the three-man defence and five-man midfield of Italy but in the end he stayed with what he knows best.

He lost Sami Khedira early in the game to a groin injury and he was replaced by the old dog of war, Bastian Schweinsteiger who was immediately handed the captain’s armband. The Manchester United man had the ball in the net with a header on 27 minutes but he had moved Mattia De Sciglio out the way first to get to it and the goal was disallowed.

You could tell the shape of the game that in the first half passing statistics the five centre-halves were among the top six. Only in the last five minutes of the half did the game come alive, starting with a Mario Gomez header flicked wide from Joshua Kimmich’s cross from the right.

The best of the first half from Germany came a minute later when Mats Hummels found Mesut Ozil who picked out Toni Kroos on the area. He mishit a shot that was pushed back across goal by Jonas Hector and Muller had the best chance for a clean hit, but Gianluigi Buffon saved. They were never quite in control of that attack and a minute later nearly conceded again.

This was another fine ball from Leonardo Bonucci on 43 minutes, and Emanuele Giaccherini timing his run in perfectly behind an imperfect line kept by Schweinsteiger. The Sunderland man actually miscontrolled the ball at first but recovered to cut it back to Stefano Sturaro whose shot at goal needed a touch from Jerome Boateng to nudge it off target.

Loew walked out of the dressing room at the end of half-time impressing a point on Ozil until he was in no doubt as to what his manager wanted. Loew was among his players in the tunnel too, insisting on his point and whatever that point it was it seemed to hold.

Germany were in the lead by 65 minutes, a move started with a big hit upfield from Manuel Neuer which Gomez moved across the line to get. When finally he had the ball under control he waited for Hector to burst into the inside channel and picked out his run to the byline.

Italy threw everything at the emergency and Bonucci did indeed get some contact on the cross from Hector but it sat up nicely for Ozil and he buried it beautifully. The pressure had built steadily and three minutes later, Gomez should have finished the matter when Ozil’s sweet ball over the top allowed him the space to control and then essay a back heel from close range. A difficult chance well executed but Gianluigi Buffon was the equal of it.

Gomez went off injured two minutes later and as the game entered the later stages Italy seized their chance. They were given a way back in by Boateng’s absurd decision to raise his hands above his head when behind Giorgio Chiellini for a cross and the ball struck the Bayern Munich man’s arm.

Neuer guessed the right way for the penalty but Bonucci had drilled it into the corner with conviction. It was a goal that Germany took some time to recover from and in the interim they struggled – Graziano Pelle went close with a shot and for a while it seemed that Italy might be able to win the game.

From extra-time to penalties and although Schweinsteiger missed the chance to finish off Italy with the tenth penalty, Hector later finished the job.

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