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Will Italy win Euro 2016?
Italy face Germany in the quarterfinals of Euro 2016 and the victor will become the favorite to win it all in France. Who will come out on top in Bordeaux?
If only Italy hadn’t been so convincing in the group stages of Euro 2016. First-placed teams in the group stages of any major international tournament are supposed to be rewarded with an easier draw in the knockout stage, but such was not the case for the Azzuri in France.
Instead, Italy were sent on a crash course through Europe’s best teams after coming out on top of Group E at the Euros. In Euro 2016’s lopsided knockout bracket, they will have already defeated Europe’s finest if they can reach the final of the tournament. Antonio Conte’s men beat Belgium and Sweden in the group stages, convincingly blew past Spain 2-0 in the Round of 16, and are now preparing for a quarterfinal showdown with Germany.
In comparison, Group E runners-up Belgium have had the easiest of gliding paths toward the final. The other half of the bracket is comparatively lightweight, with Poland, Portugal, Wales, and Belgium duking it out in the quarterfinals — any finalist other than Belgium from this group would represent a major tournament surprise.
Although the group stages were exceedingly dull due in part to the expanded poll of twenty-four teams, the tournament is heating up in Italy’s half of the bracket where most of the heavy hitters are squaring off. In that regard, Italy’s meeting with Germany will be one of the definitive matches of the tournament.
Conte’s men have been extremely confident so far, maintaining a perfect record bar an irrelevant group stage loss to the Republic of Ireland. Having thoroughly outclassed Belgium and Sweden in their first two games of the tournament without allowing a goal, Italy had already qualified for the knockout round top of their group and Conte’s second-string side succumbed to a disappointing but eventually meaningless 1-0 defeat to Ireland.
Otherwise, they’ve outdone all expectations thus far. Having gone into the tournament regarded as one of the most uninspiring Italy squads ever, their organization and tactical discipline have translated into much more valuable assets than the total sum of their parts.
Said coach Conte after their tournament opener against Belgium, per The Guardian: “I’ve been saying from the start and I don’t tell lies – this is a squad of men and of good footballers. In competitions like this it is right you have this alchemy between players who enjoy being together and the best thing for me tonight was how everyone got involved. That said, we need to be happy tonight and then prepare for Sweden because two years we won the first game with an excellent performance [against England] but went out in the group stage. These memories burn me and the supporters.”
Traditionally, Italy have been a very defensively-oriented team but this summer they’ve added a bit of spice in the midfield, outdoing Spain in the quarterfinals in a vibrant, menacing manner.
Italy exorcised their demons from their 4-0 humbling in the Euro 2012 final against Spain in that match and took a big step towards proving themselves. They’re quietly confident heading into their meeting with Germany, having never lost to die mannshaft in competitive competition, but acknowledge the sizable task ahead of them.
For one, Italy are missing Mario Balotelli, who scored both goals in their 2-1 semifinal victory last time around, and nobody has yet stepped up to be the difference maker up top. Although they’ve added a bit of flair in the midfield to their typically defensive-oriented tactics their lack of a consistent striker has meant they’ve only struck five goals in four games so far in the tournament.
Indeed, if not for poor finishing and David de Gea’s outstanding performance in goal they could have had multiple more goals against Spain, instead relying on a Giorgio Chiellini’s sloppy tap-in and Graziano Pellé’s breakaway clincher to nip the win.
Pelle has scored two goals so far in France and may be the key to Italy’s success against Germany.
However, Germany will undoubtedly be Italy’s biggest test of the tournament. “Germany are a cut above the rest, I don’t mind saying that,” said Conte. “They are the best side at these championships bar none, and we are going to have to face them without Thiago Motta, who is suspended, and possibly Daniele De Rossi, who has hurt his rib. Germany are a great team and there are a lot of hurdles in our path, but when the going gets tough we can often manage to respond.”
Yet Italy are unfazed by the obstacles in their way. Said Alessandro Florenzi: “Excuses are for losers. It actually just gives us more power because we know that we can do something really important by working all together.”
He did admit, though, that Italy would “need to climb Everest” to defeat Germany. At very least they need somebody to rise up to the occasion in the goalscoring department.
The reigning world champions are the only team yet to allow a goal in the tournament and blew past Slovakia 3-0 in the Round of 16. Germany have won all of their five UEFA European Championship quarter-finals and have appeared in every World Cup and Euro semi-final in the last decade.
Although they weren’t amazing in the group stages, drawing Poland 0-0 and narrowly defeating Northern Ireland and Ukraine, they had the same record in the 2014 World Cup group stages. Their penchant for continuously improving in the latter stages of tournaments even has its own name in German: “Turniermannschaft”.
After victory in the World Cup, Joachim Löw’s men are determined to start building their own footballing dynasty. Their credentials will finally be tested against Italy and defender Mats Hummels warned that Germany will have to be alert at the back because it will be nearly impossible to take a lead away Italy.
“What we have learned is that we should not fall behind 1-0. They are too much in the driver’s seat then,” he said, per ESPNFC.
How will Germany combat Italy, then? As Hummels explained, they’ll fight fire with fire.
“I’d be a great advocate for changing the complexion of the match by taking the lead ourselves,” he said.
Homepage photo credit: Puma (mynewsdesk.com (cropped)) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons