Tactically astute Italy are set to take on unbeaten Germany in a fiesty quarter-final encounter of the Euro 2016 at Bordeaux.

This game is the final that was meant to be but won’t be. The two most impressive teams in the tournament are meeting far too early for the neutral’s liking, but it promises to be a delectable encounter nonetheless. Germany have built up a groundswell of momentum after a shaky start, Mario Gomez and Joshua Kimmich filling erstwhile worrying voids and Julian Draxler impressing with his dazzling moves down the left. With a clean bill of health and an infallible defense so far, they will be hoping to go all the way to the final and complete the World Cup-Euro double that they feel this golden generation deserves.

Italy, too would go into this game with a positive frame of mind after some impressive performances in France. Antonio Conte’s well-drilled unit have performed well against higher ranked opposition, something they displayed spectacularly while putting Spain to the sword with power and panache. They have the added psychological advantage of never losing to the Germans in a major footballing tournament. However, injury worries over Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Candreva on top of a suspension to Thiago Motta may throw a spanner in Conte’s works.

Team News & Tactics

Germany

The parallels between Germany’s current Euro run and their World Cup victory are very apparent so far. A shaky start marked by holes at full back and striker was solved by tasking Philip Lahm with his most natural position and recalling Miroslav Klose back in Brazil 2014, the decision coming at a perfect time to give wind to German sails and set them towards golden shores. In France 2016, it seems that the selections of Joshua Kimmich and Mario Gomez are yielding the same dividends, as Germany relentlessly hounded Slovakia with their quick passing and angled runs in the Round of 16.

Julian Draxler, hitherto subdued in this tournament, exploded to life against the Slovaks. First he slalomed his way to the byline for a smart cutback that Gomez put into the net, and then he was on hand to volley home a loose ball from a corner to put the game to rest. It was probably just as well that Draxler’s burst came when it did; with Thomas Muller failing to open his Euros account despite trying all his space-inspector tricks, Germany needed someone to share the scoring responsibilities.

Germany aren’t likely to make any drastic changes for the encounter against the Italians and will trust their players to rise to the occasion. History is overwhelmingly against them as Germany have never beaten Italy in a competitive fixture in a major tournament, drawing four and losing four. The four losses in the knockout rounds are varied and painful: two World Cup semi-finals, one World Cup final, and the semi-finals of Euro 2012. Although the rational Germans will feel that records speak for very little over ninety minutes, it is sure to play on their minds if Italy take the lead. But for a defense that hasn’t conceded a goal at the Euros so far, getting one past Neuer will be a tall ask for the Azzurri.

Joachim Low’s squad has no injuries to speak of before the quarter-finals. Jonas Hector has successfully recovered from a flu and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger is now fully fit, having played only a bit-part role in the tournament so far.

Predicted Starting XI (4-4-1-1): Neuer, Kimmich, Hummels, Boateng, Hector, Khedira, Kroos, Draxler, Muller, Ozil, Gomez

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Italy

For all the talk – and well-merited at that – about the wonders of Wales and Iceland at this tournament, what Antonio Conte has done with a relatively functional group of Italian players is nothing short of remarkable. Treating his national team as a club, Conte has stressed on the preeminence of tailoring each game to the opponent, practicing drills, passing routines, and player roles with manic repetitiveness. Some say that Conte even forbids most of his training staff to look in on team training sessions, such is his fear that they may leak out.

Building atop the Juventus backbone of Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini, and Bonnucci, along with speedy wing backs Darmian and Candreva, Conte’s 3-5-2 formation has caught many teams off-guard (especially those superior on paper and with a proactive style of play). Italy struggled against Sweden, who refused to come out, and lost to Ireland, although that was a much-changed side. The two games where they performed best were against Belgium and Spain, sides privileging a technical, possession-based playing style.

Italy’s performance against Spain was a tactical masterclass, right from how they made the pitch wide when they had the ball and narrow when Spain had it, to how they effectively shackled Sergio Busquets into making a record low number of passes. In truth, the scoreline of 2-0 flattered Spain, with David de Gea being called upon to make save after save to spare the defending Euro champions further blushes. Having come through the group of death and beaten one of the leading lights of Europe already, the Italians will be chomping at the bit to get on the field and test their mettle against the Germans.

The only dampeners for Conte in the lead up to this game are injuries to midfield general Daniele De Rossi and indefatigable wing-back Antonio Candreva. Although his managerial style is such that systems always take precedence over players, and one would assume that the replacements will be furnished with instructions down to the last dotted i and crossed t. Thiago Motta picked up a booking against Spain that will see him missing from his game as well, so the squad players Conte calls upon certainly have to prove equal to the monumental task before them.

Predicted Starting XI (3-5-2): Buffon, Bonnucci, Barzagli, Chiellini, Florenzi, Sturaro, Parolo, Giaccherini, De Sciglio, Pelle, Eder

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Stats & Facts

  • Germany have reached at least the semi-finals of the last five major tournaments they participated in.
  • Italy have kept 19 clean sheets in 37 Euro games, more than any other team in the history of the tournament.
  • Thomas Muller hasn’t scored a single goal in nine games at the Euros. He has 10 goals in 13 games at the World Cup.
  • The last player to score past Manuel Neuer in a major tournament was Oscar in the World Cup semi-final of 2014.
  • With 13 cards in 4 games, Italy are the most booked team at Euro 2016 so far.

Quotes & Final Prediction

Toni Kroos says (via Sky Sports): “Why should I have an ‘Italian trauma’? You’ll have to explain that to me first. I haven’t played that often against Italy, so previous matches were nothing to do with me.

“They are hard to play against, stand deep and are very relaxed on the ball, they’ve played like that for years. Italy will be the strongest team we have faced until now. I’m looking forward to it and I’m very optimistic.”

Antonio Conte says (via Eurosport): “Germany have everything to be a strong side, as they have technique, talent, physicality. They are organised and in my view the most complete team in the world. They have strong individuals and the team is just as strong as a unit. We consider Germany to be absolutely the best opponent in the tournament.

“We tried over the last few days to study and understand their play, so it will be a very different match to the one against Spain. We must do well to limit our opponents and also hurt them. It is a quarter-final, so if we want to go forward there has to be an attacking and a defending approach.

“We know there are difficulties and we’re prepared to face them. The situation right now is not on level terms, but we worked hard and are not beaten before we even start. I want to see hunger and the awareness we can overcome obstacles that might seem insurmountable.”

Final Prediction: Germany* 1-1 Italy (Germany to win on penalties)

Italy will push Germany more than any other opponent at the competition so far, and same can be said for the Italians. Both sides are well-drilled and mindful of the talent of their opponents, so expect the margins to be razor-thin unless a very unlikely 7-1 style Brazil upset happens. If the scores are level after extra time, the writer has chosen Germany to come out on top in penalties. But with Italy’s last major international triumph coming after a famous penalty shoot-out, who is to say they can’t repeat the feat?

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