You can call it Joachim Loew’s special Italy experience that stands behind the first Germany victory over Italy at a major tournament. Always be patient – be patient at all times might well have been the most used piece of advice by the 56-year old German head-coach in advance of the dramatic 7-6 victory on penalties in the quarterfinal of Euro 2016. The new episode in Germany’s tournament history was the expected hard piece of work, but this time the Germans and their coach seemed to be better prepared than ever before.
Yes, a penalty shoot-out is always like a lucky dip. In the end it took 18 penalties until the winner was determined. But the Germans deserved to win as they were the better team. A one that was patient and showed strong nerves, more than a human is normally offered by nature. And yes, after having lost all duel’s against Italy at major tournaments before, the German team and their coach might have been mentally blocked to some extent. For Loew and his World Cup team it was an extreme situation.
It was a tight duel from the first minute to the last. But looking at the decisive areas of the game, it was obvious that the 2014 World Champion meanwhile has developed. On top, the Germans can rely on the outstanding ability of a goalkeeper like Manuel Neuer. The 30-year old saved two penalties. The Bayern Munich keeper may well be awarded a fourth time – after 2013, 2014 and 2015 – as the world best goalkeeper if his team manages to get through to the final and win the 2016 tournament.
The duel against their old rival and feared opponent was nothing you would call a football festival. But no team on this planet was going to trounce a side like Italy. Belgium got beaten as Spain was. Both are regarded to be among the leading football nations in Europe and the world. It was up to Germany to do better which meant being patient – more patient than ever before. Losing the plot would have meant sharing the destiny of Belgium and Spain.
The Germans resisted the opportunity to open up their game fully and take too many risks from the first minute on. That of course was a risk too after the Germans gave up their striking power after Julian Draxler (VfL Wolfsburg) was left out and Loew picked Benedikt Hoewedes in the defense. “We had to close the center due to Italy’s strong ability to counter attack,” Loew said.
But Germany and Loew proved they have learned to some extent and seem to be ready to make it until the music for the last dance will be played in the final. They in the first place have learned from one of their darkest hours at the European Championships in 2012 when they did not have enough patience and made tactical blunders. Meaning they neglected their own strengths and gave up their identity. Four years later they followed their own pattern and dug deep to produce a sometimes a boring piece of football. They secondly learned from Spain that was not that patient over 90 minutes.
Loew’s answer to Italy’s striking duo was a “false” three man central defense containing Benedikt Hoewedes (FC Schalke 04), Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng (both Bayern Munich). Their main task, close down the center. The three German central defenders were supported by a left back in Jonas Hector (1. FC Cologne) and a right back in Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich).
Both, Kimmich and Hector, were supposed to support the attacks down the flanks to keep Italy’s defense busy and help in the back when necessary. On top Loew wanted to stop Italy’s strong midfield with a solid defensive midfield. The disadvantages of this system are obvious. The opponent could find open space when counter-attacking and, when Germany lost the ball and they could not close all doors when pedaling back.
Italy was successful in attacking down the left flank, especially after Sami Khedira (Juventus Turin) was replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United) after getting injured. It was obvious that Schweinsteiger lacks match practice and the needed speed. As well as the 31-year old German captain had problems propelling his team forwards and remaining solid at the back. Loew was forced to change his match-plan and his team got along with the change.
The Italians were like usual not fully interested in taking the game to Germany. But they managed to interrupt the passing quality of Toni Kroos, who so far in the Euro 2016 tournament had been the driving source of the German game. This maybe was their biggest achievement in the first half. After half time the Germans took more risks and Italy, like in their game against Spain, got into more trouble.
After Oezil’s scored the opening goal, Italy seemed to be mixed up and the Germans tried to finish off the game by scoring a second. Italy for a while was helpless until Jerome Boateng reached out his “helping hand” and Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus Turin) converted the penalty to equalize (1-1) which was the final score after 90 minutes.
Germany continued to dictate play in extra time. They kept on being patient and tried to score the winning goal but couldn’t quite manage – so it was left to a penalty shoot-out to decide another dramatic chapter in the history of matches between Germany and Italy. But in 2016 the more mature German team solved that problem.