Germany and Italy are set to contest the second semi final of the 2012 European Championship (read the full IBTimes UK preview here) on Thursday evening and decide who gets the right to try and take the title of defending champions Spain in Sunday's final.
It has taken Joachim Low and Cesare Prandelli's sides contrasting results to reach this stage in the tournament. While the Germans, whose performances at major tournaments in recent years reinforces their position as one of the most consistently high-performing international sides of all time, go into this tie on a 15 game (competitive) winning streak and after having negotiated the tournament's Group of Death without dropping a point, the Italians have made it here in typical Azzurri style - one win, two hard-fought draws and a penalty shootout win over England in the quarter final.
Admittedly, though, the win over England was a more dominant performance for the 2006 World Champions than the scoreless normal time draw suggested. The Italians were utterly dominant through 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time, registering a stunning 35 shots on goal. Were it not for an inspired Joe Hart and the England back line, Roy Hodgson would have been in for the most humiliating night in England's history.
A report in The Sun quotes Germany captain, left back Philipp Lahm, as commenting on the game and on the fact that Italy should never have allowed the English to stretch them as far as they did. The implication, then, is that Prandelli's side cannot afford to give the Germans even a sniff of goal; a sentiment that does hold true - Germany are the leading goal scorers in the tournament so far, with nine strikes.
"We watched the game at our hotel and England were comprehensively outplayed. It should never have reached penalties. The Italians only had themselves to blame for allowing the game to reach that point. They were very wasteful in front of goal. If that had been Germany, we would have put England out of their misery during the 90 minutes," the Bayern Munich defender stressed.
Lahm did admit England did well to hang on for as long as they could.
"The only thing you can say is you must admire the way England managed to hang in and refused to go home quietly. When it went to penalties it could have been anyone's game. There are days when everything goes for you and others when they don't. But it would have been a massive injustice had Italy failed to win," he said.
Meanwhile, Low has admitted his side need to stop Juventus and Italian international Andrea Pirlo from seeing too much of the ball. Pirlo has carried over his stunning domestic form into the Euros and was instrumental in the dominant performance against England, marshalling his side into completing 835 passes in their quarter final.
"Italy are very good coming from the back and with [Antonio] Cassano and [Mario] Balotelli they have real class players. But especially Pirlo. He is not just a player, he gives the tactics and ideas on the pitch. He is the one that directs the game. We have to disturb him, stop him playing, get in his way, and think of a way how we can do better than Italy in midfield," the coach stressed in an ESPN report.
The Italian, in turn, has confessed to being worried by the Germans and claimed they would be a very difficult opponent.
"Our approach to the game against Germany will be the same as against England," Pirlo said to ESPN, adding, "This is the only way we can play. But unlike England, Germany can create many threats to our defence. England played a very prudent and careful way. The difference is against Germany, whereas Wayne Rooney stayed further up I expect Mesut Ozil to be a great threat in and around the areas where I am playing, even though he will not necessarily do a man-marking job on me."