Favorites Germany are preparing to square off against Italy in the second Euro 2012 semifinal. It will be a tough, tactical battle between two strong teams in what has become one of Europes classic footballing rivalries.
Germany take on Italy later on Thursday in the second semifinal of Euro 2012 action. The Germans come into the game riding a record 15 competitive game win streak, but the Italians have never lost to Germany in a major tournament.
Both sides now know that defending champions Spain await in the final in Kyiv on Sunday - but there's another high hurdle to clear before that match.
A new look attack
German Coach Joachim Löw changed his lineup for his side's quarterfinal match against Greece, a 4-2 victory, despite winning every game in the group phase. The veteran Miroslav Klose replaced Mario Gomez at forward, while André Schürrle and Marco Reus replaced Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller respectively on the wings.
In an interview with DW, European football correspondent Andy Brassell, said that it was interesting that Löw made the switch, but that something was not quite there for the Germans up until that point. "They played a bit within themselves in the group stage," he said.
The increased success Löw had with his new attack is indicative of the depth Germany, also the youngest squad in the tournament, possess.
"Germany's main motivation is knowing who is behind them [on the bench]," said Brassell.
Löw is expected to make only one change from his lineup against Greece, with Podolski replacing Schürrle. Reus and Klose are expected remain in the starting eleven.
Italy have struggled to score this tournament, only managing multiple goals against a weaker Ireland side in the group stage. Their goalless draw with England in the quarterfinals meant that the Squadra Azzurra have now failed to score in extra time in all seven attempts at the European Championships.
With questions surrounding the Italian attack, Brassell said that the big battle of the game will be between German defender Mats Hummels and Italian forward Mario Balotelli. "[Balotelli] is just a goal away from a good run of form," said Brassell.
The Italians opened the tournament with an experimental 3-5-2 formation that made things difficult for a talented Spanish offense. But an injury to Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has ruled that formation out and Italy are expected to play their usual version of a 4-4-2 formation, with midfielder Andrea Pirlo driving the offense.
Pirlo is the key
Germany's main goal defensively will be stopping Pirlo. The Juventus playmaker has been in fine form at Euro 2012. His 146 total passes against England on Sunday is the most so far at this tournament. Against Croatia Pirlo became the first player to score directly from a free kick at a European Championship since 2004 - a feat Cristiano Ronaldo repeatedly tried to match on Wednesday evening, but to no avail.
A large share of the goals Italy have scored at this summer's tournament have been created by Pirlo. The Germans understand the importance of removing him from the game.
Of the two holding midfielders Germany play, Khedira will likely be given the task of shutting down Pirlo. "The onus will be on Khedira to move up and press on him and close him down," said Brassell.
Heartbreak of 2006
The last time Germany faced the Italians in a major tournament was World Cup 2006. The Germans lost after Italy scored two quick goals in the dying minutes of extra time, denying Germany a penalty shootout.
Beating the Italians would go a long way towards living down that devastating defeat on home soil, in what has become strong rivalry between the two countries. German football magazine Kicker has dubbed it, "The Classic."
Five players still remain from the 2006 World Cup squad, including midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger. "We have never beaten the Italians in a tournament, so it is time," he said.
"It will be a worthy semifinal," said Pirlo. "The Germans are strong. As opposed to England, Germany will play with us more and give us problems."
But Pirlo, who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, remains confident. "Germany is definitely scared of us," he said.
Author: David Raish
Editor: Mark Hallam