After eight attempts Germany have finally beaten Italy in an international tournament, following on from four draws and four defeats with victory on penalties after the match ended 1-1. They will go into the semi-final to face the winner of France against Iceland and after overcoming a dramatic and stressful clash with the Italians, they will believe everything is possible. Here are 5 Things We Learnt:
1. Germany are being Germany
Starting slow and building momentum is such a well-worn route to success that it almost sounds cliche, but the German side are finally starting to find their rhythm. A stale 2-0 victory over Ukraine, a struggling 0-0 draw with Poland and a dominant 1-0 win against Northern Ireland marked their group stages as a success, if an unimpressive one. They then defeated Slovakia comfortably in the round of 16 to set up the quarter final with their bogey team, the Italians. Despite the tense ending to the game they dominated throughout normal time and it was only thanks to some outstanding defensive work from the Italians that the game wasn't settled before the shoot-out. Toni Kroos is the star man in the German side, particularly given how little Manuel Neuer had to deal with and the penalty Jerome Boateng gave away, and he kept his side in possession and dominating the ball. Mario Gomez looks to be a good solution in the striker role for Germany, whilst Mesut Özil and Julian Draxler are starting to find their rhythm. The only surprising part? How many missed their penalties!
2. The Italian defence is magnificent
Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli: what a back three to call on in times of desperation. The three Juventus centre backs clearly know each other very well having played together for years at the Old Lady, and familiarity breeds confidence. It took the Germans a long time to break down the defence, despite dominating possession and territory, and it looked like the Italians were playing for a draw, such was their negativity and solidity at the back. Gigi Buffon is still a world class goalkeeper and I hope he will grace the world stage at least one more time, at Russia 2018. When all four have been playing they have only conceded one goal, the Özil goal which came as the result of such dominance from Germany, but they have not only contributed in defence. Bonucci scored the penalty which levelled the game and sent it to extra time, whilst Barzagli stepped up (alongside Bonucci, who scored again) in the shoot-out. Those three players are a shining example of how defending should be done, but are all comfortable on the ball. Chiellini could well become Italy captain once Buffon calls it a day, but all three are natural leaders and fantastic defenders.
3. Gigi is a legend
The word legend is thrown around so casually now, but in my opinion it takes a certain level of success and ability, combined with a sportsmanlike outlook on the game, to be considered. It is possible to be charismatic without all the arrogance and showmanship and it is possible to be one of the greatest players in the world, and one of the all-time greats in your position, without going over the top. Buffon has shown time and again that he is a classy winner and an emotional loser. His tears after the shoot-out defeat ended his final Euro Championships in disappointment endeared him further to the footballing world that already considers him one of the nice guys. His save from Mario Gomez at point-blank range would have made any keeper of any age proud, whilst he didn't play mind-games with the Germans to gain an advantage in the shoot-out; he just did his job of saving their penalties. The Euros, and the Italian side, will be worse off without him, but when he finally retires the world will have lost a fantastic ambassador for the sport on the pitch.
4. Conte is going to be a joy...
I already dislike Antonio Conte and he hasn't even arrived under the media glare in England yet. The new Chelsea manager will become one of the most well known managers in the world over the course of the next season, but already I dislike him. His side played incredibly negative football, something Italians are stereotyped for anyway, on the way to quarter final defeat. Recognising the weakness of a side is of course key to getting the best from them, but as displayed in the run up to the equaliser Italy have some good attacking options too. It is a real shame we only saw them for about five minutes. If he plays the same way at Chelsea then it could be a long season. His general touchline manner is annoying as well, as he always looks like he is picking a fight. Of course a bit of passion and aggression is a good thing in a competitive sport but he just seems to have an us-vs-them complexion. It could be like a new Jose Mourinho reign...
5. Technically Brilliant
If not the most attacking display of football ever from the Italians, the quarter final showdown was at least an indicator of the immense technical quality on display from both sides. Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are well known for their passing range, but there were some sublime moments of skill from both sets of players. Two moments of note stand out in particular: Mats Hummels bending a pass with the outside of his right foot perfectly into the path of Mario Gomez, half the length of the pitch away; and the Italian defence, under pressure, keeping the ball around their own area with one touch passing. There were so many moments of quality during the game that it was a joy to watch and it shows just how far football has developed technically that they were not particularly unusual. The passing sequence leading to the German goal was outstanding and the movement off the ball was key. The technical brilliance was taken up a notch during the penalty shoot-out, for whilst a few couldn't handle the pressure, those that could struck some incredibly accurate penalties. France or Iceland, beware.
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