Can Italy beat Germany?
No. Well, that was easy. End of blog post.
But seriously, Germany will win the second semifinal game of the European soccer championships, thus beating Italy for the first time ever in a major tournament. (West) Germany lost the 1970 and 2006 World Cup semis to Italy in two of the best games of those tournaments. With two extra rest days, and the England v. Italy game going to extra time and penalties, the Germans will be fresher, quicker to the ball, more aggressive and, player-for-player, better than Italy.
Germany even had the luxury of resting Gomez and Podolski against Greece, and their replacements, Klose and Reus, both scored. Reus looked impressive and Klose led the line as he has done for Germany for much of the past decade. Ozil looked fantastic in the quarterfinal match (yet again) and, even if Bastian Schweinsteiger is injured as some reports say, Germany’s strength in depth is remarkable. Players like Goetze, the highly rated and in-demand midfielder Borussia Dortmund, have hardly been featured so far.
If Germany does have a weakness, it’s at the back; Italy may be able to exploit this. Boateng looks like he’d be prone to an error or two, and in central defense, although Hummels looks solid, Badstuber can be a yard slow at times. I also thought Neuer was slow to react to the cross for Greece’s first goal in the quarterfinal — although it was a great pass, the ball should never have been allowed to travel so far across the box.
Despite all this, I just can’t see Italy winning. This is a strong German team and I think they’ll go all the way, and not just in 2012. I saw on a website that their starting 11 versus Denmark, with an average age of just over 25, was their youngest ever at a European championships. Germany could be on top for years to come.
Now the caveat: Mario Balotelli. For all Pirlo’s artistry and De Rossi’s energy, if Italy can win, Balotelli will make the difference. So far in this tournament, he’s been relatively controlled, both on and off the field. Against England, Balotelli just couldn’t quite connect, but he got into positions where he could make chances. He’s a cool finisher usually, and perhaps he may just give Italy a spark (the fireworks?!) to force a surprise. But Italy have only scored one goal from open play in the tournament (vs. Spain) and four over all — two of those coming from corners against a hapless Ireland. They are heavily reliant on Pirlo (now 33 years old) to dictate play and just had an energy-sapping game with England. In the end, I think Germany’s youthful midfield will win the day.