Favorites Germany are preparing to square off against Italy in the second Euro 2012 semifinal. It will be a tough, tactical battle between strong teams in what has become one of Europe's classic footballing rivalries.
Germany take on Italy on Thursday in the second semifinal of the Euro 2012. 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 are waiting in the final in Kyiv on Sunday - but there's another high hurdle to clear before that match.
A new look attack
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 European football correspondent Andy Brassell in an interview with DW.
Löw made three changes from his lineup against Greece, with Podolski and Kroos replacing Schürrle and Reus. Klose is back on the bench in favor of Mario Gomez, who has three goals so far in the tournament
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 seven attempts in European Championships.
With questions surrounding the Italian attack, the big battle of the game will be between German defender Mats Hummels and Italian forward Mario Balotelli.
"Balotelli is in perfect shape and glowing in confidence," said Gazzetta dello Sport columnist Tancredo Palmeri, in an interview with DW.
But the Italian striker needs service to be successful, and Germany is expected to control the majority of possession.
"Italy's best chance will come from a corner or a moment of genius," Terry Duffelen, co-host of the German sports podcast, The Bundesliga Show, told DW.
Pirlo is the key
German sports magazine Kicker wrote that Löw has respect for the Italian attacking duo of Balotelli and Antonio Cassano, but that "the German coach noted another player specifically: Andrea Pirlo."
"He gives the Italians their ideas and tact," said Löw.
Germany's main goal on defense will be stopping Pirlo. The Juventus playmaker has been in fine form at Euro 2012, creating a large share of Italy's goals. The Germans understand the importance of removing him from the game.
"The best way to limit him is when the other team is controlling the game," said Palmeri.
Keeping the ball out of Pirlo's possession will be hugely important for Germany.
Of the two holding midfielders Germany play, Sami Khedira will likely be given the task of marking Pirlo. "The onus will be on Khedira to move up and press on him and close him down," said Brassell.
Khedira will have a difficult job ahead of him, but he has been one of the standout players this tournament. German national youth coach Horst Hrubesch said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Khedira has been a leader since his youth team days. "Now he has also become the leader of the national team," he said.
Heartbreak of 2006
The last time Germany faced the Italians in a major tournament was the semifinal of the World Cup 2006. The Germans lost after Italy scored two quick goals in the dying minutes of extra time, denying Germany a penalty shootout.
The mood in Italy is positive. "Nobody honestly was expecting to have a semifinal and to do it in such a brilliant way," said Palmeri. After making up for the infamous World Cup 2010 campaign - where Italy failed to advance from the group stage - "we have nothing to lose and nothing to fear," said Palmeri.
Beating the Italians would go a long way toward Germany living down that devastating defeat on home soil in 2006, in what has become strong rivalry between the two countries. 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: Matt Zuvela