After the 3-0 (2-0) win against Slovakia in the round of the last 16 at the European Championship, confidence has increased within the German national team that they will have a happy end at the tournament. In the upcoming quarterfinal in Bordeaux on Saturday, 2 July, the world champion will face Italy who won 2-0 against Spain. Italy is the biggest bogey team of the German national team which is still to win a tournament match against the “Azzurri”. Poland v Portugal, Wales v Belgium and France v Iceland are the other quarterfinals.
They sat glued to the large TV screens – the match was a must. The German squad members watched the thrilling last 16 encounter between the top teams Italy and Spain live in the Hotel Ermitage in Evian-les-Bains on the banks of Lake Geneva. After their excellent performance the day before when winning 3-0 against Slovakia in Lille, they were able to sit back and find out who their quarterfinal opponent was going to be. The Italians ran out 2-0 winners. Spain, the 2008 and 2012 European champions, was out of the competition. Next up in Bordeaux on Saturday is the duel between the two four-time World Cup winners – Germany and Italy. Confidence is running high that the negative run of results against the “Azzurri” at European Championships and World Cup will come to an end. In a friendly in Munich after Easter, the Italians were beaten 4-1.
After it was certain that Italy were going to be their next opponents, the German international players then viewed the biggest sensation at EURO 2016: In the last 16 match played in Saint-Denis, Iceland won 2-1 against England. “Iceland are really well organised. They’re so well structured at the back. The way they also then attacked, that was classy,” said national coach Joachim Löw when talking about Iceland, a possible semi-final opponent. The islanders from the Atlantic Ocean have first of all to knock-out France in their quarterfinal to advance to the next round. For their part the Germans are now focussing on their next opponents – the major football nation Italy against whom their last tournament defeat came in Warsaw in 2012 when they lost 2-1 in the semi-final.
“We don’t have a thing about the Italians,” stressed Löw who said different players will be taking the field in Bordeaux than in the previous matches. “For me it’s, as we say in Germany, ‘cold coffee’. I much prefer fresh espresso. We just have to see that it tastes good on Saturday,” said Löw and predicted how the game will go: “Against Italy, it’s going to be a really tough match. The Italians have defence in their veins. They make space so tight with nine or ten men that a team like Spain had its problems.” It would mean that after four European Championship matches in which Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovakia parked a bus in front of their penalty area, one can once again expect a defensively-minded opposition. “The team knows how to close down space and strong in man-on-man situations.” Speaking in the training camp in Evian-les-Bains, Löw however on Tuesday warned the team about the “Azzurri’s” attacking qualities. “They are not the Italians we know. They are not only focussed on defending but are very dangerous going forward. They’ve got great strikers that are quick on the counterattack.” Löw is however optimistic: “Germany has always lost to Italy in major championships. Now we’ve got the chance to change things. I’m looking forward to the game and am expecting a hard-fought, interesting and intensive match.”
Amongst the German players there is a lot of respect for the Italians who few pundits had on their cards before the start of the tournament. “Italy will pose us individually far greater problems than has been the case here. Individually they are far better than our four previous opponents,” said Mario Gomez who scored his second goal of the tournament in the 3-0 win against Slovakia. His two years at Fiorentina obviously brought him into contact with many of the Italians as opponents. “Italy will also play defensively. We’ll simply have to dictate play and we’ll have to try to play with the same kind of energy as we did against Slovakia. Then we’ll get to the next round,” said the German centre forward who would have preferred to have played Spain in the quarters: “How can I prefer Italy – what would my dad say?”
Jerome Boateng, who scored his first ever goal for the senior national team when winning his 63rd cap in the match against Slovakia, knows the strengths of the “Azzurri”. “The Italians are simply excellent tactically. You can see it, the space between the players is inch perfect,” explained the German defensive boss who sees the opponents as being less strong up front but nevertheless dangerous. “They work together as a team and keep hurting you.” Julian Draxler, the best Germany player in the match against Slovakia after producing an outstanding display in which he set up for the goal for Gomez and scored himself, put his “vorfreude” into words by saying, “I’m really looking forward to the game. Italy is definitely going to be a tough nut to crack.”
For Toni Kroos, it would have been a special experience to have played his Real Madrid teammates in the quarterfinal. But it wasn’t to be. The Spanish never really got going against the Italians after having lost the last group game against Croatia. “Like the Spaniards, the Italians have outstanding qualities in their own way. I don’t have an opponent I prefer more than others,” said the midfielder. Thomas Müller felt likewise. He doesn’t care whether the Spanish or the Italians are going to be the next team to be beaten on the way to the fourth European Championship title for Germany. “Both teams have differing qualities, but both teams have qualities that can hurt. We’ll see if the Italians will suit our style of play,” said Müller. Saturday, 9.00 pm will see the continuation of perhaps the biggest rivalry in football history.