04 July, 2006

Now We're Talking: Germany 0 Italy 2 AET

It has been a poor tournament, but as we reach the semi-final stage there is time for something to be salvaged. Germany face Italy in the first semi, two countries who have impressed throughout and are certainly potential champions.

Both sides are out of the blocks quickly and the early part of the match is a frantic, free-flowing contest. The first real threat comes on 10 minutes when Totti plays a quick cross close to goal. Lahm clears from a dangerous position. Four minutes later Cannavaro has to do a similar job at the other end. Seconds later Perrotta has only the keeper to beat but the ball runs too far away and Lehmann collects it.

It looks like we're in for a good game. Both sides are playing positively and playing well, but Italy are shading it, largely thanks to Cannavaro who is prowling imperiously in the Italian box. In attack the Azzurri are playing too many poor balls in the final third, but they become increasingly dominant and Germany now have their backs to the wall.

It is Germany who have the best chance yet, however After 33 minutes Schneider runs threateningly towards the goal. He shoots just over, but this sparks a German renaissance and for the rest of the half the Italians are forced to retreat. They cope well and make some inroads back into the German half but as the whistle goes it is Germany who are in the ascendant.

Both teams start the second half a little cagily but within five minutes the two keepers have each made an important save and we are back to end-to-end football. The best chance comes after an hour when Podolski turns well in the box and shoots, only to be blocked by Buffon.

David Pleat has clearly been inspired by Mark Lawrenson’s incredible Sven impersonation and attempts a little mimicry of his own. He chooses to emulate Monty Python’s gumbies. "My brain hurts", he groans. I am too astonished to take any note of which Italian player it is that is clutching his head, having received a knee in the temple. It seems likely that Pleat’s pronouncement is independent of the incident, in any case.

The play is a little less engaging than the first half as the match turns into a tense midfield battle. Neither side can make a breakthrough and both make substitutions with 20 minutes to go. This freshens up the game, and although it is a stalemate, it is a very exciting one.

It goes to extra time. Within a minute Gilardino cuts in from the touchline and hits the post, Lehmann beaten. The rebound runs away harmlessly but a minute later Zambrotta hits the crossbar with a strong drive. The tension continues. In the last kick of the first half Podolski looks odds on to score but plays it into the side netting.

At the start of the second period it is difficult to believe that most of these players have been going for two hours. The pace is frantic. After five minutes substitute Del Piero dribbles into the box but is met by a wall of defenders. Immediately Germany counter and Buffon has to make an excellent save from Podolski. Italy respond and Friedrich is forced to clear a dangerous ball. Del Piero blasts one well wide and Odonkor does the same at the other end.

Both sides are playing out of their skins. With two minutes to go Pirlo unleashes a powerful strike in the box. Lehmann is equal to it but the resultant corner leads to Pirlo playing Grosso in. Grosso hammers it in with style and the Italians are exuberant.

Into the final seconds of injury time Del Piero picks up the ball at the corner of the box and bangs it into the net. It is the final kick of the game and Italy have avoided their nightmare, a penalty shootout which they would faced with a dread familiar to the English.

Penalties might have made for a disappointing end to the best match of the tournament. Italy are worthy of their victory but the hosts would have been equally deserving, had they won. If we can maintain this for the next few days then my memories of Germany 2006 will benefit from it.

No comments:


eXTReMe Tracker