By Pete Sanderson at Deepdale
Defending champions Germany delivered a finishing masterclass to move top of Group B and end Italy's hopes of progressing to the last four of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™.
Birgit Prinz opened the scoring in the eleventh minute, clinically dispatching Anja Mittag's elegant back-heel before Conny Pohlers made it two with a right-foot thunderbolt. Stephanie Jones added her name to the scoresheet in the 55th minute before Anja Mittag wrapped it up in the 74th minute after her penalty had been brilliantly saved by Carla Brunozzi. The result, coupled with France's 1-1 draw with Norway later on Thursday, means Germany become the first side to reach the semi-finals.
The game had been billed as an unequal contest, with tournament favourites Germany both physically and technically superior to an Italian side short on height and the belief that they could truly topple this powerful German juggernaut. Italy's chances of earning an unlikely victory were further dented when Germany confirmed their leading light Prinz was fit for her first appearance of the finals.
Italy also made one change to the side which were comprehensively defeated by France in their opening match, the concussed Chiara Gazzoli making way for defender Elena Ficarelli in a new look 4-1-4-1 formation which was clearly designed to add some defensive steel to a lightweight Azzurre side. The switch allowed Sara Di Filippo to protect the back four with Patrizia Panico ploughing a lone furrow up front.
If Italy were to succeed in earning the point which Carolina Morace believed would provide them with a fighting chance of progress it would have to be the very same tight, tactical contest pioneered by the great Italian sides of yesteryear. As the opening minutes unfolded, however, it became clear Germany had other ideas and immediately began to impose their class on the game with Renate Lingor and Jones both going close.
It was not long before Prinz, their brightest star, took centre stage. The powerful forward ran on to Mittag's adroit back-heel before slotting effortlessly past the despairing dive of Brunozzi for her 84th international goal, making her Germany's all-time leading scorer. As Italy found to their cost against France, when it rains in Preston it truly pours and Brunozzi was again picking the ball out of the net just seven minutes later.
Kerstin Garefrekes earned a free-kick on the left and Lingor rolled it back for Pohlers, who chipped it with the outside of her boot into the roof of Brunozzi's net. Italy had their chances to return fire through Panico and Conti but too often dithered when perhaps they should have let fly.
Germany returned to their ruthless best in the 55th minute. Britta Carlson sent a fizzing volley goalwards and, with the goalkeeper committed, Jones was on hand to steer it into an empty net. Mittag, who was outstanding throughout, rounded off the win 16 minutes from time, scoring at the second attempt after Brunozzi had pushed her spot-kick against the post to bolster German hopes of a repeating their tournament victory of 2001.