Tuesday 23 January 2018

Germans prevail in test of tactics and nerve

Germany 1 Italy 1 (Germany win 6-5 on pens)

Germany's Jonas Hector celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against Italy. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP
Germany's Jonas Hector celebrates after scoring the winning penalty against Italy. Photo: Antonio Calanni/AP
Italy's Giorgio Chiellini controls the bal. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters
Italy's Marco Parolo in action with Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger. Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

Sam Wallace

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

A place in the semi-final was the reward for Joachim Loew's team when finally Jonas Hector dispatched the 18th penalty 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 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 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 Joachim Loew's team controlled the game in all the normal ways they do in midfield.

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 in 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. A minute later they 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 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.

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. The pressure had built steadily and three minutes later, Gomez should have finished the matter when Ozil's ball over the top allowed him the space to control and then essay a back heel from close range. A difficult chance but Gianluigi Buffon was the equal of it.

Gomez went off injured two minutes later and as the game drew on 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. It was a goal that Germany took 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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