"Germany have never beaten Italy when it counts" – that is the line usually trotted out, but in my opinion it is not true. We have beaten them, but only once (sort of). OK, it may not have technically been a win, but it sure felt like one back then.
In 1996 I was 18 years old and in my last year of school; EURO '96 was on and my mates and I were gripped. The heartbreak of 2006 was still to come and all of us were too young to have experienced the 1982 FIFA World Cup final or the semi-final at the 1970 World Cup, which became commonly known as the 'Game of the Century'.
We knew that Italy always had a very strong team and were drawn in the same group as Germany. The two sides met in the final round of matches and, with Germany on six points and Italy on three, the Italians needed a win to go through at the expense of the Czech Republic, while Germany still could have gone out had they lost.
A group of us watched the game together with our Italian friend Vincenzo, who had been living in Germany all his life. I vividly remember just how well the Azzurri played and Germany would have gone out had they lost by five. It was a scenario that seemed incredibly unlikely before the match, yet suddenly we had an eerie feeling that it could very well happen.
Nine minutes had been played when Italy were awarded a penalty – and things could have gone rapidly downhill from there. Andreas Köpke was on hand to deny Gianfranco Zola, however, and somehow the German team managed to keep the game goalless. Italy were out, Germany won the group and went on to win the title. Vincenzo's Azzurri were beaten, meanwhile, and collapsed on the turf in despair.
Vincenzo started supporting Germany after that (he really did not have a choice, did he?) and went nuts when Oliver Bierhoff scored the equaliser in the final. "See, that's what he learned in Italy. See that? He learned that in Italy," he kept pointing out. We were happy to let him have that little victory.
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