Steffen Pottter offers a personal recollection of the Mannschaft's miserable major tournament record against Italy – yet still finds hope for the weekend.
Germany v Italy – everyone knows the southern Europeans are the Mannschaft's bogey team. While both countries have lifted the FIFA World Cup four times, and Germany have won three UEFA European Championships to Italy's one, never in eight encounters in these two tournaments have the Germans beaten the Azzurri.
It all started with the 1970 World Cup semi-final epic, aka 'The Game of the Century', which Italy edged 4-3 after extra time. The Italians then also prevailed in the 1982 World Cup final (3-1) and ended Germany's 'Sommermärchen' fairy tale in the 2006 semis (2-0), silencing a huge Dortmund crowd. Additionally there have been four draws, two in either competition.
Last of all, I was in Warsaw for the UEFA EURO 2014 semi-final, perfectly aware of the history between the sides. Strangely I felt confident, as Germany were clearly a team on the rise.
They had breezed through qualification, winning every match, before extending that 100% record through a difficult-looking group – overcoming Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark. Greece were then dispatched in the quarter-finals.
Italy, by contrast, had not been particularly impressive. They came second in their group, eclipsing Croatia by a point, and needed penalties to dislodge England after a goalless 120 minutes of last-eight action.
Even so, I distinctly remember getting the team sheet for the semi. It took everyone in the UEFA office a while to work out the German plan: Toni Kroos was down as playmaker, a role hitherto performed by Mesut Özil, with the admirable Özil relocating to the right wing. Marco Reus, brilliant against the Greeks, was benched. The plan was to use Kroos to attack Italy's 'regista' Andrea Pirlo early on.
"Everyone makes mistakes, coaches do too. It was our tactical idea to take Pirlo out of the game, but this plan did not work. Sure, it was my responsiblity," Joachim Löw said on Tuesday, with the confidence of a man who has won the World Cup. "These games happen. You think how to best line up, and you get it wrong. Then there were individual mistakes, like for [Mario] Balotelli's first goal or his second, where we were wide open after having a corner. None of us were up to par that day."
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However, the Bundestrainer believes this setback may have been a stepping stone to global glory in Brazil. "In retrospect, it helped us a bit," he said. "We looked at what we had done wrong and this painful defeat helped me in my personal development. It was a good lesson."
The overall record of this rivalry, friendlies included, makes bleak reading for Germany though: eight German wins to 15 Italian, with ten draws. Clutching at straws, the 0-0 stalemate at EURO '96 sufficed to eliminate Italy from a competition Germany eventually won. "I don't think we have an Italy complex. Those are different sides and different scenarios," Löw concluded.
How I want to believe.