Game of the Day: Germany vs. Italy, Bordeaux, 20:00
The glamour tie of the quarter-finals. More fitting of a final than a game to reach the last four but this Euro draw has been kind to us this season and now we get to see Antonio Conte once more try to prove that tactics can overcome any player for player advantage.
I’ve written before, and I will say it once more, this is hardly an Italian Vintage that Conte has rocked up to France with this summer. With Andrea Pirlo’s omission from the squad, it is Conte’s trusted old Juventus generals in defence who embody the tactical foundation that has proved so successful at this year’s European Championships.
It was Leonardo Bonucci’s passing ability that undone Belgium from deep. In the round of 16, it was the defensive organisation of Conte’s favoured 3-5-2 formation that stifled Spain so effectively. Conte knows what he gets with this back four (if we are to include the ever imperious figure of Gigi Buffon) and in turn, the players know what Conte expects from them.
In a time where instilling a philosophy at international management seems harder than ever, it is Conte’s ability to call on his Juventus faithful that have seen Italy go from ailing force to unlikely tournament contenders this summer.
Germany however aren’t a team on decline like the Spanish. They aren’t the disjointed and confused like the Belgian side Italy faced in the opening game. This Germany side seem to be pleasantly easing through the gears as the tournament progresses. In a side of the draw that sees Joachim Low needing to navigate potentially Italy and France before the final, it seems that Germany might be timing their run to perfection.
I for one thought, at times at least, that this Germany side looked laboured in the groups. Unconvincing against the Ukraine, Low’s selection of Mario Götze has a false no.9 appeared to stifle the creativity of Mesut Ozil and Julian Draxler. Germany appeared to lack the incisiveness of a direct centre forward who would push a defence back to create the space, or attack the ball when played into the 18 yard box.
A recall for Mario Gomez and all of a sudden Germany look a very different animal. The Besiktas centre forward may of seen his career slide from the dizzying heights of Bayern in recent seasons but he undoubtedly has a major role to play this summer for Germany.
Before I sign off, I have to give a special mention to Toni Kroos, who has just been sumptuous this tournament. Whilst at Real Madrid he has actually looked a little lost being asked to play alongside Luka Modric, this tournament he has just been ridiculously German in his efficiency with the ball, exemplified by his performances against Slovakia and especially Northern Ireland where he managed 11 passes more than the entire Northern Ireland side. His importance to this German side should not be underestimated.
This clash is literally just mouth-watering. Can Conte engineer another miracle? With Daniele De Rossi likely to miss the game and Thiago Motta suspended, the Italians may be light in the centre of the park but you can’t help but feel that Conte has prepared for such a situation.
This may be a game too far for this Italian side as against Slovakia Germany really started to look the real deal but then this is a tournament hasn’t exactly favoured the favourites, just takes Wales and Iceland as examples.
Rich, The Sweeper Football Blog