Can Germany beat Italy? Will Manuel Neuer head the winner? Are the Azzurri better than 2006 and why isn't Toni Kroos scared? Team reporters Ben Gladwell and Steffen Potter debate with Sam Adams and Paul Saffer.
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Paul Saffer (@UEFAcomPaulS): Hello all. I'm going to start this with Steffen, because while a lot of people have been looking at Spain, Croatia, Italy – two of whom have gone – Germany have been creeping through and are two steps from the final. How would you assess their road to Bordeaux?
Steffen Potter, Germany team reporter (@UEFAcomSteffenP): It's been pretty much what you can expect from a German team, no? Somehow managing to finish top of their group without fully convincing, making some changes that actually work out – Julian Draxler, Mario Gomez – and then starting to click with the knockout stage arriving.
Sam Adams, match reporter (@UEFAcomSamA): It's unusual for it to all fall into place for Germany at a major finals, I suppose ...
Paul: Yet for Italy, Ben, there's been a lot of talk ever since that first game and especially after they beat Spain – is this a team to match what they did ten years ago? In fact they seem an even better team than then, albeit in a different tournament.
Ben Gladwell, Italy team reporter (@UEFAcomBenG): It's not just the media, but also the players emphasising the similarities between this group of Italy players and the 2006 FIFA World Cup winners. It's a similarly tight-knit group without any individual stars or players who could potentially upset the status quo.
In terms of individual talent, perhaps they had more a decade ago – let's not forget Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti were in that squad – but the strength of this group is probably greater still, thanks in no small way to the man in charge, Antonio Conte.
Steffen: Funnily that's what struck me, too. Back in 2006, I was less than thrilled by what I saw from Italy before the tournament. "No way they are in contention to win it," I thought before that World Cup.
Sam: Ben, could some potential Italy absences have an impact?
Ben: That again shouldn't be a major issue because this squad is so even in terms of the spread of quality that I'm confident any player can come in and the difference not be noticed. However, the absences this time are two-fold: Thiago Motta is suspended and Daniele De Rossi is in all probability going to miss out too, and they are the only players Conte has for that central midfield position.
That said, Marco Parolo is likely to take De Rossi's place and Stefano Sturaro will come in for Motta, which I see as a seamless change anyway. Parolo may not have De Rossi's muscle and tackling qualities, but his work-rate is second to none – or second to Giaccherini – and I cannot see a dip in quality with just one probable change to the team that beat Spain.
Sam: Italy do seem to be at their best when no one fancies them. The celebrations after the Belgium game – Buffon's sprint – seem to show they come together in these circumstances.
Paul: In the West Wing it's "Leo will know what to do"; from what the Italy players say, it's "Antonio will know what to do".
Sam: Conte's touchline gesticulations have been 1) wonderful to watch, and 2) satisfying my stereotypical view of Italian coaches.
Steffen: Joachim Löw was asked about the way Conte is behaving in the coaching zone and if that was going to bother him. Löw's answer: "Sometimes as a coach you do things during a game you don't really notice doing ..." Then he smiled wryly. Drew a few chuckles from the journalists.
Ben: Italy do rise to the occasion and that's why I was so confident when they faced Spain, and I'm confident now they face the world champions. Most people following Italy are regretting them not finishing second in their group and ending up on the other half of the draw, but I believe they're better when they have the challenges they now face rather than going into a game they may, on paper, be expected to win.
Paul: Especially considering their incredible record against Germany.
Sam: We'd not touched on the elephant in the room yet. I was hoping Steffen went there with typical German efficiency – Paul got there first!
I was there in 2012. Pre match there was barely anyone who thought Italy could win. All they had was "their history" against Germany, but that was enough and more. They were utterly inspired for that semi-final.
Steffen: The German players have stated over and over again that they don't really care about the history. What else were they supposed to say though? When German journalists really kept pushing and asked Toni Kroos to explain why he wasn't scared of Italy, he replied: "You should explain to me why I should be scared! I haven't lost to Italian teams that often."
I actually believe the players when they explain it that way. It's the way media and fans think, not players. However, I've said it before – should they actually go behind it might creep into the back of their heads: "Not us as well. Not again."
Paul: Especially as I'm not sure anyone has truly put Germany under pressure so far, in the way Italy are about to.
Ben: Streaks are there to be broken, but I'm sure this particular one carries some psychological weight. It gives Italy that belief they have beaten Germany before – several times – while Germany feel they are up against a monster who has never shown them any mercy, even at times when they have felt stronger, like now.
Paul: At least this is a Germany team quite refreshed compared to 2012, with a World Cup win in between. Is that a big help, Steffen, the fact these players have 'got over the line' recently and were able to stand the pressure of, say, playing Brazil in Brazil, another game many thought they would lose?
Sam: I'll eat my fetching EURO baseball cap if Italy ship seven in this game ...
Steffen: Absolutely. This generation had been a group of 'nearly theres' for quite a while; think World Cup 2010, EURO 2012 and the UEFA Champions League final in 2012, which the many Bayern players in the German squad lost in their own stadium against Chelsea. Bayern winning the UEFA Champions League in 2013 and following up with the World Cup has given them the belief – no, the knowledge – they are winners.
Ben: Could that also have sated them, so they have less motivation to win again? Or is this the one trophy they are lacking, so they still want it a lot?
Steffen: That's a good question, but it doesn't look like it to me. People started asking exactly this question when their start to this tournament appeared lacklustre. Now they've stepped things up a notch, why not go all the way? But I'm inclined to agree. Italy might be a bit hungrier, a bit more eager to show they can win it.
What's especially interesting is that this Germany team have been modelled after the famous Spanish side of the past two EUROs, with a distinctive German note. Italy found a perfect way of undoing them – even though they were clearly past their prime. Will this work against Germany as well?
Ben: I'm sure Conte has analysed Germany extremely well, not least since the 4-1 defeat in March, and he will have spotted their weaknesses – if you can call them that. Getting his team to exploit these is another question, and I certainly expect Germany to cause Italy more problems than Spain did. However, his team have followed Conte's orders to the letter so far and if they do fail to win, it won't be because they didn't try; it will be because Germany were simply better on the night.
Sam: We've touched on it already, but the battle of the minds between the two coaches fascinates me.
Paul: Definitely, though also with the added spice of the two best goalkeepers in the mix.
Sam: With Buffon's celebrating and Neuer's sweeping, their average pitch positions could make for interesting reading after full time. Never have two keepers been so close to each other, in more than one way.
Ben: So are you leaning towards a 0-0 with that statement, Paul?
Paul: We'll find out now as it's prediction time: what will happen on Saturday?
Steffen: For the first four matches, Germany played an incredible high line with lots of counter-pressing, forcing the opposition to play it long most of the time and easily recovering it. Italy showed against Spain that they know how to deal with a high line and pressure. Löw has already stated he doesn't expect to win possession as easily now against the 'bigger' teams.
I reckon Germany will not press as aggressively as they have done so far, as this would play right into Italy's hands. They will still have more possession, but will play a bit more defensively than against the likes of Slovakia.
Ben: I went with a 2-1 win for Italy over Spain and I can see the same result this time. I might have been wrong with that exact scoreline, having also predicted extra time, but the result was the right one, and it will be again for the Squadra Azzurra.
Paul: Sam, sitting there like some Alpine border between the two?
Sam: From my bird's eye view in the Alps, I will say it will be a historic win for Germany, 1-0. But a goal from an unusual source ...
Paul: Götze in extra time?
Steffen: Neuer volley?
Paul: He's been practising hasn't he, for added time if needed?
Steffen: He has. But here's the secret – watch out for his headers.
Ben: I think he's always practising.
Steffen: I'm very confident that Germany will come out on top this time. They have everything going for them. They have the better team – at least on paper, I think we can agree. They know how to win, they will probably dominate proceedings, so things should go their way. But then again that's exactly what I said four years ago before that Warsaw semi-final.
Paul: And having seen Italy play excellently, but not seen Germany in France, I will follow my gut and say: Italy. Anyway, not long to wait now. Thanks guys, enjoy the game.