Italy, unbeaten in their last five matches against Germany, look continue that dominant streak in tonight's semi-final. In fact, to call it a streak is to do Gli Azzurri a disservice; Italy has downright owned Germany through their competitive history, particularly in major tournaments, where they have never lost to Die Mannschaft (three wins, four draws).
So while the competitive history is pretty disparate, both nations, once reaching the semifinals of major tournaments, have a knack for advancing to the finals. To wit, Italy has progressed in 8 of their last 10 semifinals, with losses to the USSR at Euro '88 and Argentina at World Cup '90 being the only blemishes. Similarly, Germany has successfully navigated out of the semis 11 out of 17 times.
Oddly enough, these two nations have met in a recent semifinal-World Cup 2006. This extra time thriller saw Italy win at the proverbial 11th hour, with goals at the 119th and 121st minutes by Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero, respectively.
Spain is on the verge of making history by defending their European crown and capturing three straight major tournament titles, which of these two sides will play spoiler to the Spanish?
In terms of this matchup, history is on Italy's side, the current state of affairs, however, might not be.
Daniele De Rossi, undoubtedly one of Italy's two stars of this tournament along with Andrea Pirlo, suffered a bit of insult to injury (or vice versa, I suppose); having missed two golden scoring opportunities, only to be subbed off following a sciatica issue. His status for this match is still uncertain. What is certain, however, is the potential calamity Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil can inflict on any defense, let alone a wounded one. Özil and Khedira have run absolute roughshod over opponents lately, particularly in the shellacking of Greece, so containing this duo is an absolute must for the Azzurri, a task certainly made harder with lingering injuries to Daniele De Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, and Ignazio Abate. The status of all three could best be described as a game time decision.
Cesare Prandelli will need all three to tussle with, among others, the massive Mario Gomez-- who is on a tear, scoring three goals, good for a share of the tournament lead.
On the German injury front, it appears that he-of-the-best-name-in-football, Bastian Schweinsteiger, has recovered from his ankle injury in time to suit up for this match, adding further prowess to an already formidable midfield.
With all that attacking talent, it should come as no surprise that Germany leads the tournament with nine goals, more than double Italy's tally. Despite such a relative famine of goals, Italy, especially against England, has displayed a penchant for the attack. Witness Mario Balotelli. Super Mario has 21 total shots (9 on target), second only to Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2012, though Italy lead the tournament with 50 total attempts on target. But, as we saw against England, creating chances and finishing chances are two different animals. Italy simply cannot squander scoring chances against a team as lethal as this particular set of Germans.
It goes without saying that Italy, especially given their poor scoring in the run of play at recent Euros (six of seven goals have come from set-pieces, while Germany has scored 11 in the run of play), will have to capitalize on early scoring opportunities to have any hope in this match. Fortunately, Germany has been less than stout defensively, having allowed 4 goals, most of any remaining team.
While Prandelli has created a team apart from the traditional Italian mold, the record shows their defense is as suffocating as ever, allowing fewer goals than anyone but Spain. The Prandelli twist to the traditional formula, if you will, rests in the attack, which is evident in the sheer number of chances the Azzurri have created at this tournament, albeit with a less than stellar conversion rate.
While Germany, some might argue, are starting to benefit from the Klinsmann revolution, which revamped the German youth system and shifted the focus to a more attacking brand of football.
Germany is powerful, fast, organized and young. The aforementioned Gomez is all of 26 years old. Özil, Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller, and Mario Götze would all still qualify for the U-23's this summer in London.
Clearly something has to give: Germany can score in bunches against anyone but is susceptible in defense, while Italy has been impressive defensively but has failed to take advantage of their numerous scoring opportunities. This may not be a defacto final, but this has the potential to be the match of the tournament.
With Italy ruling the past, this impressive squad of young Germans is hoping to turn a new page in this rivalry.
If Italy can't corral the German offense, youth may very well be served