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Sports

Italy friendly drums up bad memories for Germany

As far as friendlies go, Germany’s matches with first Italy and then England are at the weighted end of the scale. Facing Italy evokes bitter memories for 'die Mannschaft;' in particular, head coach Joachim Löw.

For Joachim Löw, two rather personal images might immediately spring to mind when he thinks of facing the Azzurri, as he does on Friday night in Milan.

The first came on a warm July night in Dortmund, when two goals in the dying moments of extra time from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero confirmed Germany's exit from the 2006 World Cup- a tournament they hosted.

The second is likely the diamond-cut torso of Mario Balotelli, exposed after his second goal at the National Stadium in Warsaw sent Germany tumbling out of Euro 2012.

Both results ended Germany's challenges at the semi-final stage. Both came in matches Die Mannschaft fancied they would win.

There have been plenty of comings and goings since that July night in 2006, but Löw would remember both occasions all too well - he was an assistant to Jürgen Klinsmann for the first defeat and the top man for the second.

Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrates after scoring the 0-2 during the UEFA Euro 2012 semi-final soccer match Germany vs. Italy at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, 28 June 2012. Photo: dpa

Germany were twice victims to Balotelli's brilliance in their Euro 2012 semi-final loss to Italy.

Löw's record, since taking over after the 2006 World Cup is the best of any Germany head coach, at a winning percentage of nearly 69 percent over 99 internationals.

Still, on the eve of his 100th match on the touchline, he has failed to totally win over the wider public.

There is a feeling among some of Germany's fans that the impressive way in which their nation qualified for both Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup has been down more to the personnel on the pitch than the man - usually with a scarf looped tightly around his neck - next to it.

Löw holding full deck

What is not debatable is the talent Löw has at his disposal going into Brazil. In most national teams, the likes of Max Kruse, Sidney Sam and Lars and Sven Bender would have been rewarded far greater for their superb form at club level. Instead, they have had to bide their time behind a galaxy of stars and may not find any relief in Friday's match.

Borussia Möchengladbach forward Kruse may be considered the most likely to win a starting berth, particularly with Lazio forward Miroslav Klose recently ruled out injured and Arsenal playmaker Mesut Özil struggling with a viral infection.

Italy finished their ultimately successful World Cup qualifying campaign with two draws, in the process handing opportunities to several players attempting to carve out regular spots in their nation's XI. Perhaps most noteworthy is whether head coach Cesare Prandelli decides to call on Löw's Euro 2012 nemesis Balotelli or stick with Southampton man Pablo Osvaldo up front.

The nucleus of Italy's squad is more advanced in their cycle, with an average age of 27.7 to Germany's 25.95.

Without injured vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger (29), Real Madrid's Sami Khedira, 26, is the eldest of the midfield options available in Löw's star-studded squad for this round of friendlies. It looms as a golden age for German football, but there were plenty of other strong sides in the 17 long years since Euro 1996 - the last time Die Mannschaft won anything.

Time nigh for drought to break?

So despite the nucleus of Germany's prodigious talent appearing to have plenty of years together, there remains the opinion that quality must be capitalized upon - and soon.

Beating Italy on Friday night will do nothing tangible to end that long wait for a win at a major tournament. The importance of a friendly victory over the Azzurri may be considered negligible for most. But given it is the same country that sent Germany spiraling out of two of its last four major tournaments, it may also be just another small step towards breaking that 17-year drought.