Thursday June 28 2012
Winning the Italian way

Italy produced a heroic performance to defeat Germany for a place in the Euro 2012 Final. Rob Paton reflects on what made the difference.

Italy produced a remarkable 90 minutes in Warsaw’s National Stadium this Thursday to upset the odds and deservedly take a place in Sunday’s tournament Final with defending champions Spain.

Facing this Germany side had been somewhat suffocating for opponents in the past two years and going into the game, Italy knew they had a task to defeat them. From oppressive closing of space to the mixture of direct, fast passing and patient, intricate play, this particular Mannschaft had breezed through Euro 2012 qualifying, the group stages and quarter-final, allowing opponents little space on the pitch and even less time in which to think. It had been oppressive nature mixed with a technical flair that going into this semi-final had won them many plaudits, seen them break the world record for consecutive competitive wins and had them as outright favourites to progress to the Final. Italy, it seemed, had been overlooked and, as their own admittance that previous history counted for little, were perhaps anticipating an uphill task.

Subsequently, for Bild’s headline earlier in the week ‘Nothing can stop us now’ and Mesut Ozil’s rather disrespectful declaration that the camp was already thinking of the Final, the opening 20 minutes or so at the National Stadium proved to be going to script as Italy struggled to gain a foothold in play.

Germany’s midfield and attack was flexible, providing limited reference points for Azzurro shirts to track and notably they were using the entire width of the pitch and both sides of it from which to probe and press at the Italians. At the same time, this same selection of Germans then narrowed their shape when out of possession - Andrea Pirlo and Leonardo Bonucci’s failed early passes symptomatic of very little space afforded to Prandelli’s side. It was as it had been for previous opponents to Germany - suffocating - and as un-German as Low’s side had been labelled, their control was looking again ominously characteristic of German nature in football.

Yet, true to Prandelli’s pre-match promise, Italy’s own ambitions to play to their style and preference remained in place and, with some prompting from the Coach himself from the sidelines, it was perhaps why they eventually were able to play their way back into the first half and open the scoring. Germany may have had a hand around Italy’s neck, but with Prandelli’s cajoling of his players to push forward as normal, the Azzurri’s lack of oxygen wasn’t followed by a lack of thought.

And as much as anything, for Germany’s recent good work in convincing opponents, pundits and even themselves this week that their ability as a unit was unmatchable, Prandelli will have had in the back of his mind the long-running debate pre-tournament over the quality of their centre-backs. From Mats Hummels being pulled out of position by Antonio Cassano’s clever turn to Holger Badstuber being caught ball-watching to miss Mario Balotelli’s presence, Prandelli and Italy’s persistence to attack and to test this theory proved to be the breakthrough, and the turning point in the contest.

All of a sudden, from having the ascendancy and almost forcing the opener through sheer Azzzuro nerves, the Germans, who were the youngest squad at the tournament, for the first time in the tournament began to look like the youngest squad. Claudio Marchisio should have done better from a half-chance almost immediately after Balotelli’s opening goal, whilst the rhythm and importantly the movement to the Germans’ play dissipated in an uncharacteristic state of panic. Perhaps as the correct reason for the ‘un-German’ tag, this drop in concentration was highlighted not only by the mis-controlled passes between each other, but crucially also the failure to reorganise in time for Riccardo Montolivo’s simple but well-executed lofted pass to set Balotelli away for goal number two. It manifested further in the second half, as an increasingly desperate Germany pushed forward with little success and still struggled to prevent Italy passing back through them time and again.

Important was Italy’s dedication to this passing play. They could not sit back and defend as had been tradition in past meetings between the two nations, theirs was not a defence that could guarantee a clean sheet to such an opponent. So, whilst their attitude as a collective unit ultimately proved to the difference, it was not through a manifestation of catenaccio, but rather through workrate, both without the ball to win it back and with it to move their opponents around.

Italy, in maintaining this dedication to a plan A style of play that had served them well up to this point, were obstinately tenacious throughout the 90. A characteristic of Prandelli’s work with the group, theirs has been a tenacity that during a difficult pre-tournament has united and focused the players to take them to this semi-final. It is a tenacity that left tournament top-scorers Germany looking short of ideas in attack, regularly troubled at the other end and not like the team that had had two days of extra preparation. It is also a tenacity that can give fans hope heading into Sunday’s final, that anything is possible. Most importantly, it is a tenacity that whilst displayed by an Azzurri playing most un-Italian football, is still very Italian in style and nature.

Have your say...
Few weeks ago when Susy decided to come up with Azurri-critising and when I disagreed, saying we should start concentrating on supporting the team and give them a credit for once I was attacked from left, right and center.

Imagine few weeks back, would you beleive Italia would dominate the game for almost two hours against England or they would shut out tournament favourites within half an hour? It is the most pleasant surprise from Squadre Azurri since 2006 World Cup.
on the 29th June, 2012 at 3:22am
all i can say is that the british & american commentary for the germany-italy game was utterly pitful. the italians were never praised, instead it was constantly repeated that germany would crush italy. now regardless if italy wins or loses sunday, i absolutely love the fact that italy proved all the haters wrong. proved all the critics wrong. italy are quality and proved it. shameful for the doubters! italy deserves to be in the final. regardless of what happens, they are champions in my eyes!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 2:38am
It felt like 1982 again....No one can deny we were superb....But it will be difficult...Forza Azzurri
on the 29th June, 2012 at 1:31am
This game was dedicated to all the English pundits and commentators and all the doubters that Italy is a great footballing nation. How can u make Germany favourites, when we have best keeper, way better defence, very solid and very skilful midfield, better strikers, better Mario! But then,all they've watched is 7 players of B Munich and mid of R Madrid in CL, their ignorance stopped them to watch and appreciate Juve and the best of Serie A.
Spain will be tough, but achievable.

on the 29th June, 2012 at 12:04am
I said it, Ballo would have a break out game and he did! We sitll have to deal with Spain, a great side, but at this point, may the best team win because thats what it is all about and I know all of you will say the same as me: ITALIA!!!!
on the 29th June, 2012 at 12:02am
Fantistic performance, Bravi Ragazzi!
As the old saying goes "WHEN JUVE WIN, ITALY WIN" and that was proved tonight, the Juventus block was outstanding both in attack and Defence.

Balotelli finally showing composure in front of goal, and Cassano, Montolivo played their part too

...but PIRLO again speachless!

Let this be a lesson to all critics out there, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the Azzurri and Italian football, Germany did so today and they paid the price.....FORZA AZZURRI VINCI PER NOI!!!
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:23pm
fully expected italy to win...dont understand media why everbody thought germany would win...very puzzling...dont history teach u anything..we always beat must think germans were playing estonia..what a joke
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:19pm
calling all Italians in England - come down to Swindon - Mecca Hall for Sundays big game.

Its going to be a fanstatic night between the two best teams in Europre!

Swindon Azzurri
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:09pm
respect to Germany, I think they showed their youth and inexperience a little, but their rejuvenation since failings is worthy of note. I think they have great players, style and good attitude. I thank them for a good game played in good spirit.

for Italy, great beauty and heart. From great adversity, honour and strength. for those that dismissed, proof of a great footballing nation. A dark time in Italy has found a light.

As an Inter fan, grazie Juve too

Bravissimo. forza azzuri, io credo!
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:08pm
Make no mistake about it - this Italy teams style of play and fantastic work rate was born and perfected in Antonio Contes Juventus side. A well deserved win and hopefully we will see the demise of Spain/Barca against Italy/Juve on Sunday. Roll on next seasons Champs League
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:07pm
Ireland,England, boys took one hell of a beating....
on the 28th June, 2012 at 11:00pm
good job, this is fantasic performance of italy, good job for birlo?
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:58pm
Congratulations from Poland. Viva Italia.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:55pm
Super Mario was just that. Cassano excellent and DeRossi and Pirlo. My main worry is that Marchisio and a few looked out on their feet.Spain's possession and passing will be tough. Keeping everything crossed. Whatever happens Prandelli must stay. This new Italia is stylish, good to watch and exciting. Also Montolivo excellent.
Final side- buffon/ abate/ barzagli/ bonucci/ chiellini/balzaretti/ pirlo/ de rossi/ marchisio/ cassano/ balotelli.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:30pm
Great win!

But i do agree with buffon! I wish we killed the game off with the 3 or 4 chances we had towards the end of the 2nd half! I think cassano was fantastic but had to come off as he was drained! For me the other sub's where wrong, Nocerino should have come on instead of motta! And giovinco instead of Di Natale.

See you in Bedford on Sunday

Forza Italia
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:26pm
Fantasico!!!!!! I am speechless! Great performance, what puts a massive smile on my face is NO ONE gave us a chance in hell. The job isn't done yet, Spain will be tough as they always are. But for the moment I'm savouring this moment! Germania non ci hanno mai battuto!!!!! My beloved Bedford town is going crazy!! FORZA ITALIA!!!!
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:26pm
I knew all juventus players are better then any ather italian players, Bonnuci was weak deffender but to night he was great man, less hope again, we have one more game, that game is biggest game ever, spain is not easy game yow
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:23pm
Outstanding absolutely outstanding
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:22pm
Forza Azzurri - I've always said to anyone who'd listen then it will be Spain v Italy Final.

Balo is the new Paolo Rossi

They all played a fanstatic game and deserved this win. They forced the Germans to change their style to hurt Pirlo, whilst Italy just played their game.

on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:22pm
Ronnie if you watched Juventus at all this year you would not have been so surprised.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:21pm
Well Done Italy, We are very proud of you. best wishes for the final.God willing we will bring it home!
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:21pm
You make it sound like The Germans gave away the game and the Italians is the inferior team that have just played a good couple of games - but fact is that the Italians are the masters of football. Check all history books.. its not a miracle or anything. They are underdogs often without a reason.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:21pm
Balotelli: I scored twice today. What do you have to say now?
Haters: Well, um --
Balotelli: Stumbling on your words now?
Haters: ....
Balotelli: Exactly what I thought. Knock me down and I'll come back stronger.

I'm sure that resonates with all those critics out there.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:19pm
Midfield were superb. Pirlo again looks different class and De Rossi put in probably his best display in an Italy shirt. Could easily have scored a couple more.

See you all in Bedford on Sunday :-D
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:10pm
Great performance! Had a bit of luck in that initial 15-20 minute spell where Buffon for once looked a little shaky, but maaged to control the game really well from the first goal. BRAVI RAGAZZI!!
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:09pm
I never believed Bonucci and Barzagli could step up for the big stage like that.....glad I have been proved wrong...

And what performance from Old Cassano and Buffon!! Supreme.

Italy will surely be the favourites going into the final now.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:07pm
The Romans defeated the anglosaxons, they conquered Germania now it's vs the Spaniards....ROMA VICTOR!!!!!!

BTW fantastic article Mr. Paton.
on the 28th June, 2012 at 10:00pm

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