German iron men show their true mettle

It had to happen one day and now that Germany have finally got their Italian monkey off their back, is there a limit to what more these men of steel can achieve in the next few years?


Source: AAP

The world champions overcame old rivals Italy for the first time in a competitive match to reach the semi-finals of the 2016 European Championship.

They face hosts France in Marseille on Friday (AEST) for the right to play the winners of Thursday's semi-final in Lyon between Portugal and Wales.

Germany had to do it the hard way to subdue the hard-nosed Italians in a Bordeaux belter that may have left a lot to be desired from a technical point of view.

But, boy, that was a classic contest between two great rivals who have won no fewer than eight FIFA World Cups between them.

Midfielder Mesut Ozil gave Germany the lead midway into the second half but Die Mannschaft were pegged back by a late penalty from defender Leonardo Bonucci and had to survive a crazy shootout that had more twists and turns than a Poirot plot to overcome the Azzurri at their ninth attempt.

They say penalties are a lottery, football's version of Russian roulette. Yeah right, that might be so for the rest of us but not for the unflappable Germans who have not lost a shootout in four decades. Yes, 40 years!

They were under the pump for most of the shootout - Italy having gone first - but they kept their nerve when it mattered most and waited for Italy to lose theirs.

With Spain's magnificent era seemingly over, England showing they are nothing more than a modest, hard-to-beat team, Brazil and Netherlands in all sorts of bother and Lionel Messi throwing Argentina's future in disarray by quitting international football, the future is looking even brighter for all-conquering Deutschland.

An era of German world domination is certainly on the cards and would surprise no one.

The Italians might argue that they managed to push the Germans all the way and would be justified in hailing their overall performance in France that has returned them to football's top table after a period of mediocrity.

Yet one gets the feeling that the Azzurri somewhat over-achieved thanks largely to their team spirit and temperament and the tactical nous of colourful coach Antonio Conte, who of course won't be there any more after agreeing to join Premier League giants Chelsea.

Germany have been Europe's top football nation for a long time.

Not just because they won four FIFA World Cups and three European Championships but because they are the world's most consistent team.

They're always there at the business end of the two major tournaments.

This is the sixth consecutive time and seventh in eight majors that they have reached the semi-final of a World Cup or the Euros.

And if they beat France, who's to say that they won't record yet another major triumph, Wales or Portugal permitting of course.

The Marseille semi-final is shaping as the tournament's real final and Germany will probably have to lift their game to overcome Didier Deschamps's side.

The 1998 World Cup-winning captain however would be dreading the prospect of a home defeat to the Germans and it remains to be seen if he will instruct his attack-minded players to hold back on their innate exuberance and flamboyance out of respect for Joachim Low's panzer division.

The French have a few old scores to settle with their German neighbours.

West Germany, remember, beat them in that classic 1982 World Cup semi-final in Seville that went to penalties.

The Germans repeated the dose four year later with a comfortable 2-0 win in the semi-final in Guadalajara.

Germany also beat France 1-0 in the quarter-finals in Rio de Janeiro two years ago.

The French have beaten the Germans only once in competition and that was in the days of black and white television in 1958 when they prevailed 6-3 in the match for third place in the World Cup in Sweden.

So today's Les Bleus, who are not exactly an epitome of consistency but have in playmaker Dimitri Payet the man of the tournament so far, have an added incentive to go up a gear and beat their bogey team.

Deschamps will be encouraged by the fact that experienced defender Mats Hummels is suspended and stylish midfielder Sami Khedira is unlikely to play due to a thigh injury he picked up early in the quarter-final.

Yet even if Germany fail to beat France or win EURO 2016, the feeling is that a period of sustained German supremacy is inevitable and just around the corner.

This expanded, 24-team tournament is no classic but it will be remembered for the way the football world was turned upside down by the exploits of Wales and Iceland.

It also saw the end of Italy's incredible unbeaten streak against Germany.

The Germans will be super keen to maintain their hold over France in the two teams' first-ever clash in the European titles.

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5 min read
Published 4 July 2016 at 11:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS