Germany attempt to shackle Italian midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo in semi-final
GERMANY aim to unleash the perfect swarm on Andrea Pirlo on Thursday night, playing with the type of tempo that England singularly failed to impose on the ageless architect of Italy’s grand designs.
There is a mix of athleticism, aggression, boldness and intelligence in Joachim Löw’s fine Germanyside that is most embodied by Bastian Schweinsteiger, the 27 year-old who has struck 23 times in his 94 internationals. It is that energy that Schweinsteiger intends directing at Italy and Pirlo in the second Euro 2012 semi-final.
Germany insist they will not be man-marking Pirlo, looking more to Mesut Özil to drop off and Schweinsteiger to push on, attempting to cut off Italy’s supply lines at source.
“I like the way Pirlo plays but he is 33,’’ reflected Schweinsteiger before Germany’s light training at the National Stadium on Wednesday. “What he’s been doing in this tournament has been quite something, fantastic, really good to watch. But there’s also a way to stop him.”
Schweinsteiger, described as “the brain” of the German team by Löw, spoke of the importance of pressing Italy’s midfielders. “You have to attack them,’’ he said. ”We’ll have a certain aggression in our game. You need that.’’
Pirlo’s team-mate, Daniele De Rossi, knows what to expect. “When you have a genius like Pirlo the opposition will always keep a close eye on him,’’ said the Roma midfielder. “If they press us high up the pitch we must keep the ball and play our way out. If not, we will have problems.”
Sami Khedira partners Schweinsteiger in the engine room of Löw’s 4-2-3-1 system, anchoring superbly and releasing Schweinsteiger to attack but also occasionally demonstrating his own adventurous traits. “He’s very important as a player for me,’’ said Schweinsteiger. “He opens up spaces going forward, is always available, scores goals but we both can’t be upfront during a game. We have to make sure we know where our positions are and what we have to do.
“Sami is playing well, making a really good impression. He’s learned a lot at Real Madrid, has become much stronger. Through that experience in the Champions League, you learn a lot.”
Schweinsteiger’s penalty knocked out Khedira’s team in the semi-finals before he himself missed in the shoot-out against Chelsea. He looked bemused when asked whether he sought “revenge” for what happened in Munich. “I can’t have any comparison with the Champions League final. That happened. It’s something completely different.’’ Germany had been practising penalties but “not very intensively”. He added: “We maybe try one or two after training, that’s all.”
Cutting a very composed figure, Schweinsteiger also shrugged off Pirlo’s suggestion that Germany could fear Italy. “I personally don’t have any ’fear’,’’ said Schweinsteiger. “Respect is there, and if you don’t have any respect you’re dumb. Italy are a great nation and have won a lot in the past, and have made a big step forward in the last two years.
"The point has come now, though, where we can beat the next big opponent. We’ve beaten Argentina, Brazil, England and Holland. The next one, we hope, will be the Italians. There’s big respect, not fear. Respect for what they’ve done in the last two years, and given the scandals in their league: their national team is really positive.” So is die Mannschaft. Germany’s system is established.
“Players come, players go. It’s important the standard keeps improving, you have a philosophy and you stick to it. Since 2005 we’ve been going up and up. We can be happy that we have such a good national team who have been successful. Of course, we don’t have the crown yet but we’re getting closer and closer.
“We have much, much more quality now. We’re tactically and physically very strong. We have good individual players and we work well as a team. It’s always fun to be here. It’s not the individual players; it’s the whole team spirit. It works very well. There’s a very healthy mix of players here and it’s very relaxed and also very focused on the football.’’
Schweinsteiger insisted he was “100 per cent fit” after his ankle problem to play this “classic game” against Cesare Prandelli’s side.
Italy’s coach talked on Wednesday night of how his striker Mario Balotelli was maturing. "There are no problems with him," emphasised Prandelli.