Italy won themselves a place in Sunday’s final in Kiev after effectively beating Germany. They were more superior than what the final 2-1 reflects, as Germany just got closer in the last minutes of the game when Ozil scored a penalty. Prandelli’s approach to the game was decisive against a helpless German squad that seemed unable to find solutions as the semi final became more challenging. The classification of the transalpine side may have beaten betting odds, but maybe it wasn’t a big surprise for someone who had been watching the whole game when the French referee blew the final whistle. Let’s analyse what we saw and start, if you want, a debate.
Both sides started the match with the systems they had more often been displaying since the tournament began: 1-4-3-1-2 for Italy and 1-4-2-3-1 for Germany. We saw from the beginning that Low’s side didn’t move the ball quickly enough to be able to surprise the Italian defence. The blues, on their side, were showing a good balance. The goalkeeper and the back four proved strong, and furthermore they accumulated many players in the middle, curiously the channel the germans were using to break through. As already mentioned, they were good with the ball and when Germany tried to press Pirlo they always found De Rossi as an alternative dropping his position to receive the ball and if they could not play with their midfielders then they played long with their strikers. A great master plan accurately executed. To finish, Cassano played with freedom between the lines serving as valuable support for the midfielders coming from behind and Chiellini, mainly, provided width in attack. That was the origin of the first goal, Chiellini passing the ball to Cassano - which was badly defended by Hummels - provided a cross for Balotelli who headed the ball to the back of the net after winning the position too easily to Badstuber.
If that wasn’t enough, the change of positions between Ozil and Kross didn’t surprise the Italians, who defended their corresponding zones strongly regardless of which players got into them. Schweinsteiger was the organiser of the German’s game but his team lacked width. Ozil moved inside creating space for Boateng to go forward, more than Lahm, but he never got to the by-line so his crosses were not too difficult to defend for the Italians. Mario Gomez didn’t get too involved, mainly because they didn’t have possession of the ball and because there were not too many free spaces to get into. In summary, it was a very dark setting for Low’s players who started to fear that things could take a turn for the worse. And they did.
The 2-0 arrived after a corner for Germany. The Italians left Balotelli and Cassano in front, with three German players defending them. Lahm as a sweeper and Podolski marked Mario. When Montolivo regained the ball Podolski left Balotelli, who ran behind Lahm to score a second goal exhibiting powerful capacity.
At half time Prandelli’s side had a clear advantage, but that was not the worst of it for Low. His rivals were more adaptable and were fairly leading the game, whilst Germany hadn’t been able to play on the wings and were hardly ever comfortable on the pitch.
After what happened in the first half and a potentially negative end to the story, Joachim Low tried to look for a reaction after half time and made two substitutions which we will now analyse. On the one hand, Reus went in for Podolski and on the other hand, Klose went in for Mario Gomez. Reus played more on the right side and the German attack started to gradually change. He looked for more 1 v 1 situations against the rivals starting from wider positions, which created more problems for the Italian defence, that now had to become more open leaving bigger spaces in the middle and allowing the powerful German second line get through more easily.
Prandelli then realised that his team needed fresh legs and Diamanti and Motta went on as substitutes for Cassano and Montolivo. He wanted to keep possession of the ball to protect his partly achieved victory and knew that sooner or later they would find spaces behind the German defence if they were able to handle the Germans’ pressing.
After these changes the scenery wasn’t much better for Germany and they made their last substitution. Muller in for Boateng, and Schweinsteiger as a right fullback to deliver crosses. But it didn’t work as the team lost its shape. Reus, who was a threat playing in wide areas, went inside, Kroos moved to the left wing getting into the middle creating more space for Lahm to go forward than in the first half.
This desperate attack by Germany allowed Italy to counterattack creating dangerous chances in front of Neuer, who contributed to the feeling of anxiety by playing very up front, close to the half way line. The plan was not working for Germany and a 3-0 seemed closer than a German goal. Italy were defending in high numbers and launching dangerous counterattacks.
When it looked that the game was coming to its end and nothing else was going to happen, Germany were awarded a penalty. The ball had clearly hit Balzaretti’s arm and the referee gave a penalty for Ozil to score the 2-1 which added some excitement to the last minutes of the match. But the score wouldn’t change and eventually it reflected what had happened during the whole game.
In conclusion, we can say that Italy was the fair winner, showing how to control the game and being able to adapt to the different circumstances they faced and providing alternatives. We now have a final. Spain and Italy, who already faced each other in the first game of group stages, will deliver the Euro 2012 champion. An excellent and well deserved final to enjoy.