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Wileman: Italy dominant over Germany in semifinal victory

Luke Wileman
6/29/2012 4:02:17 PM
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In the end, the winning margin was just one goal; but that result doesn't tell the full story of Italy's dominance over Germany in Thursday's semi-final at UEFA EURO 2012.

It was a wonderful performance from the Italians who stunned a lacklustre German side that many, including me, had predicted to win the whole tournament. As a neutral, it was fantastic to watch.

There has been much talk during the tournament about a new found dimension to the Italians play under Cesare Prandelli since he took over in the spring of 2010. His side is now unbeaten in 15 competitive matches playing an attractive brand of soccer that keeps them solid in defence, but also gives the freedom to attack.

Just a few months ago Mario Balotelli wasn't even assured a place in Italy's squad. The doubters were questioning whether he could be relied upon when it really matters. He has answered all the questions that have been asked of him. It's easy to forget that Balotelli is just 21 years old and what he has achieved in his career is already impressive at such a young age.

When Mario Balotelli is on his game, he is almost unstoppable. He is good in the air, as shown by his movement and finish on the first goal against Germany. He has incredible power in his shot as we saw when he almost ripped the back off the net when doubling the lead. He has the qualities and potential to be the leading striker in Europe for the next decade.

Of course, the knock on Balotelli is his character, but that is where Prandelli deserves great credit. He had faith in Balotelli heading into the tournament and has been repaid. He has managed him well. However, Balotelli is just one piece of an Italian side that has been a joy to watch, led from midfield by the magical maestro Andrea Pirlo.

Germany were impressive in qualifying, winning all of their matches. That run continued as they became the only team in UEFA EURO 2012 to take three victories from their three matches in the Group Stage. When their attack clicked into gear to score four goals against Greece in the Quarter Finals, they looked as though they had hit top stride at just the right time.

The Germans' young squad seemed primed for success, but at times against Italy, Joachim Low's team looked as though they had run out of ideas. It was also strange to see two of the players who had performed so well against Greece left out of the team. Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose played a major role in Germany's best attacking display of the tournament, but Low opted to leave them on the bench against Italy.
 
Ultimately, Germany were outplayed by an Italian side that is a joy to watch. Low's side fell at the semi-final stage for the second consecutive tournament, but the major plus for the Germans is that they have time on their side. The majority of this squad will form the core of their team at the World Cup in Brazil in two years.

It has been a wonderful tournament, and Spain against Italy is a final that certainly has the potential to provide a thrilling end to the action in Poland and Ukraine. There are interesting tactical dilemmas for both coaches heading into Sunday's showpiece in Kiev.

Will Spain coach Vincente Del Bosque play a central striker or go with Cesc Fabregas in the "false nine" position? Our TSN EURO 2012 panel is split on this one. Jason de Vos feels the best way for Spain to nullify Italy's threat from midfield is to play Fabregas, while Darren Anderton has been an advocate throughout the tournament of starting Fernando Torres.

Del Bosque has surprised us all before in this tournament, but the one player I wouldn't expect to start is Alvaro Negredo. The Sevilla striker was given his chance in the Semi Final against Portugal and it didn't really work, as evidenced by the fact that Del Bosque changed things just after half time and brought Fabregas on in his place.

Italy may also have selection choices to make in defence. After an awkward first few minutes, Prandelli's team looked relatively untroubled defensively against Germany with Giorgio Chiellini having returned to the side after injury and Federico Balzaretti switching to right back, but there may be other options. Christian Maggio is available again after suspension and it remains to be seen whether Ignazio Abate is fit enough to return.

The other question surrounds formation. After such a strong display against Germany, will Prandelli consider returning to the three at the back that he played against Spain when they met earlier in the tournament?

I didn't pick Spain and Italy to reach the final ahead of the tournament, but there is no doubt they both deserve to be there. When they met in the opening match of the group stage, it was an enthralling encounter, and the highest quality match of the tournament's opening phase. On Sunday in Kiev, we could be in for a footballing treat.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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