Showered with plaudits during UEFA EURO 2012, Germany "can beat any side in the world" according to Joachim Löw – though the coach knows his team's burgeoning potential is not enough in itself to guarantee a semi-final victory against Italy.
Germany have scored freely and generally set pulses racing with their attacking style in Poland and Ukraine. It is an approach, Löw emphasises, that has not been stumbled upon overnight. "We are now a team that don't have to react to our opponents – we play our own game," the coach said. "This is something we've been trying to develop in the last couple of years. We're at a level where we don't need to hide from anyone."
A side brimming with belief they may be but history, at least, is not on their side. Much has been made of the fact that Germany have not beaten Italy in seven previous competitive encounters. All water under the bridge, says Löw. "I'm not going to make anything of it," he replied. "
Our team are perfectly capable of beating any side in the world – it doesn't mean we are definitely going to win, but the fact we know we can gives us a lot of confidence."
While Germany have swaggered into the last four, it would appear on the surface that Italy have rather ground their way here after winning just once outright. However, the Azzurri have one of the tournament's great entertainers themselves, in the form of midfield general Andrea Pirlo, with Löw describing him as "not just a very good player, he's the one who directs the game".
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli had no qualms in outlining where he thought his side could wrest the initiative from Germany. "We've got one of the best midfields in European football – we have flair, technical ability and a physical presence," he said. "Germany will press high up the pitch and we're ready for this and need to keep the ball to counter it."
Prandelli admires Germany for "changing their approach a decade ago and now seeing the benefits" and has tried to engender something of a new attitude with Italy. It is the only way his team will be successful, he insists. "We're very calm and keen to put into practice everything I've been working on in training. We can't just sit deep – we've worked on this for two years. I think it would be lacking in maturity to change now."
Even so, they meet a team on a world-record 15-game winning run in competitive fixtures. Löw could afford to make three changes for the 4-2 quarter-final victory against Greece and has a fully-fit squad to choose from, with Bastian Schweinsteiger shaking off an ankle problem. "We have to be cheeky, confident, but work very hard as well," the Bundestrainer added. "We won't concentrate on them, we will work on our own game."
Prandelli says Italy are ready "physically and mentally" following Sunday's shoot-out success against England. The teams' last semi-final meeting was at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, when the Azzurri gatecrashed the German party. While both coaches acknowledge there are vast differences now – in terms of personnel and approach – whether there is a change in the Italy stranglehold over Germany in big games remains to be seen.
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