Jurgen Klinsmann’s Germany had drawn plaudits for the exhilarating football they had played in the earlier rounds, shaking off the silly national stereotype they had acquired for being rigid and “hard to beat”. They did however conform to another stereotype of Germans being great at penalties as they and Jens Lehmann’s crib sheet defeated Argentina 4-2 on penalties. After all the match fixing controversy in Serie A that season, the Italians had got through the group stages in unspectacular fashion. Marcello Lippi had been changed tactics a few times before the semi, playing a 4-4-2 diamond in the first two group games, 4-3-3 against Australia and the 4-2-3-1 against Ukraine he would use against the Germans.
Italy’s 4-2-3-1 involved the Milan duo of Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso playing deep in front of the back four with Francesco Totti behind Luca Toni. Germany’s shape was more complex: in the defensive phase they were a clear 4-4-2 however their transition in the attacking phase that was interesting. When the Germans were in possession, Tim Borowski would tuck inside very narrow with Philipp Lahm making rampaging runs past him; Michael Ballack would surge forward and combine with Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski and Bernd Schneider would keep the width on the right. In some ways you could compare it to the shape England used in their 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, in its fluidity. Ballack looked like he would be the one to score as he got into the box often and almost got on the end of passes, while Schneider also got a very good chance when the Italian defence was sucked to the right side and he found himself in clear space in the right side of the box but skied his shot horribly.
After Germany’s good start Italy started to take control of the game in the last ten minutes of the first half, carrying on into the second. Gattuso and Pirlo, who played his deep lying regista role very well, kept possession very well deep in the midfield and then looked to play cutting balls to Simeone Perrotta and Mauro Camoranesi. They were able to dominate because Sebastian Kehl and Ballack were reluctant to press, fearing Totti would get the ball in masses of space if they did. After their impressive movement in the first half Germany were struggling to get any meaningful attacks. They made two straight swaps as the pacy David Odonkor came on for Schneider and Bastian Schweinsteiger came on for Borowski. Alberto Gilardino also came on for Toni around this time period, Lippi feeling the need for a penalty box striker because, for all Italy’s possession, they struggled to make any clear cut chances – a late Totti through ball almost meant extra time wasn’t needed, but neither team managed a goal in the 90 minutes.
Vincenzo Iaquinta came on for Camoranesi at the start of extra time in a straight swap. Being a striker he looked to make more direct runs in behind the defence than midfielder Camoranesi, taking advantage of the fact that Pirlo always had plenty of time and space to pick him out. Italy looked like they were close to getting a goal after Gilardino squeezed past Cristoph Metzelder in the right channel and hit the near post – Gianluca Zambrotta also hitting the bar around the same time. Just before the second half of extra time, Alessandro Del Piero came on for Perrotta, replicating the change on the other flank by bringing on a striker to play in a midfielder’s position. After all Italy’s dominance, Podolski could have got the winner but he headed wide an Odonkor cross.
In the second half of extra time Pirlo moved into a position nearer to Totti than Gattuso as Italy looked to dominate higher up the pitch. It was a change that indirectly got the Fabio Grosso goal. Pirlo picked the ball up outside the box in space and hit a shot which Lehmann saved. From a resulting corner knock down, he played a clever ball to Grosso from outside the box when most would have spread the easy ball back to the corner taker Del Piero – Grosso then curled a left foot shot from inside the box into the net.
After the goal Germany had to push many bodies forward and it was from this that Italy scored one of the greatest counter-attacking goals you will ever see. Gilardino picked the ball on the edge of the left side of the box from a Totti pass and played an exquisite reverse pass to Del Piero for a FIFA-like finesse shot into the top right hand corner, sending Italy through to the final against France, where they would win their fourth World Cup after a penalty shoot-out.
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