It took the traditional German method of penalties to claim a first competitive win against Italy, but Steffen Potter believes the outcome was reward for Joachim Löw's tactical innovation.
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Germany ended their Italy jinx their way in Bordeaux on Saturday night – on penalties. They could have decided it during regulation time after Joachim Löw had boldly decided to change formation.
The Mannschaft won the 2014 FIFA World Cup using a 4-2-3-1 system. They topped Group C here and dominated Slovakia in the round of 16 with the same set-up. Yet Löw decided it was time to mix things up against previously unfancied Italy, who had spectacularly kicked out Spain in the previous round, and fielded a 3-5-2 template switching to 3-6-1 to nullify the Azzurri's strengths.
- Germany finally defeat Italy to stride into semis
- Thrilling drama for Germany, bitterness for Italy
- All the action, reaction and analysis as it happened
"I knew right after the Italy-Spain game that we would play like this," Löw said. Germany managed to assume superiority in the middle of the pitch, where Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos outnumbered the industrious Emanuele Giaccherini, Marco Parolo and Stefano Sturaro.
"Italy's game is easily predictable," he continued. "They play with two central attackers and two wingers, who are playing high up the pitch. It's too dangerous to take them on four v four. They play from the wings into the middle, try to lay it off, and then run deep. They do it very well, but we denied them that."
Opposite number Antonio Conte took it as a compliment "that the world champions changed their formation to play us". Germany still wanted to have possession, even though they took fewer risks, and they got it: 59% to Italy's 41. That was the same figure Spain achieved in the last 16, although the Azzurri were not really out to boss possession despite some reasonably long spells on the ball.
"We had phases where I would have wanted even more possession," Löw added. "There were phases where Italy grew tired because of our positional play and our movement of the ball. We should have used it more effectively. I never had the feeling Italy would score from open play."
While Germany were indeed in control, Italy did an outstanding job of containing what Conte had called "the strongest side in the world" for the better part of 120 minutes. Löw still pointed out how pleased he was with his team's showing and how Mario Gomez might have settled things had Gianluigi Buffon not denied him with a stunning stop.
It is also worth noting that Germany had tried out a back three several times in the past two years, last but not least in March's 4-1 victory over a somewhat under-strength Italy. "We knew right after the World Cup we had to expand our options or it would have been too easy to find us out," Löw reasoned.
When the line-ups came through on Saturday, it felt a bit like Warsaw 2012 all over again, where Löw decided to change a winning outfit to cancel out Italy – a move he had called a mistake last week.
This time his plan worked and would have ended in triumph after 90 minutes had it not been for either an unnecessary spot kick conceded or Gianluigi Buffon's incredible reflexes. His team clinching it on penalties was just reward – and sweet at that.