An opponent boasting 15 straight wins in competitive games would worry some teams. Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini is unfazed, saying Germany is the ideal challenge in tonight’s Euro 2012 semifinal.
After a quarterfinal win over England, rated six places above Italy by soccer governing body FIFA, the Azzurri face the world No. 3. The Germans are a strong favorite to win at the National Stadium in Warsaw.
Italy’s semifinal spot seemed unlikely in the run-up to the tournament. It lost three straight games, including a 3-0 thrashing by Russia days before an opening 1-1 draw against defending champion Spain. Italy lost a one-goal lead in that game, then did the same in tying with Croatia before reaching the knockout stage with a 2-0 win over Ireland.
“I don’t know why, but in friendly matches Italy never plays well, perhaps we need to have something at stake,” Chiellini, who won Italy’s Serie A after an unbeaten league season with Juventus, said in an interview in Kiev. “Only in matches against top teams do we play well, like against Germany or against Spain. Not the middle-level friendly matches.”
Italy has never lost to Germany in a World Cup or European Championship game, winning three and drawing four. Even so, three-time European champion Germany is rated the 2-5 favorite to advance by U.K. bookmakers Ladbrokes Plc and William Hill Plc, meaning a successful $5 bet would bring profit of $2 plus the original stake. Italy, winner of the tournament on home soil in 1968 and currently ranked world No. 12, is 7-4.
Italy beat world and European champion Spain 2-1 in an exhibition game last August, six months after holding Germany 1- 1. Italy also defeated host Germany at the 2006 World Cup to move into the final where it claimed its fourth title by beating France on penalty kicks.
Still, the mood among Italian fans wasn’t buoyant before Euro 2012. Few have traveled to Poland and Ukraine to watch coach Cesare Prandelli’s team in action after defeats to Uruguay and the U.S. preceded the loss to Russia during a training camp in Switzerland.
“It’s normal they feel that, because we lose the last matches before the finals,” Chiellini, 27, said. “But from the first game we played very well and our people are with us now.”
Chiellini missed the England game with a hamstring injury although he expects to have recovered in time to meet Germany, the only team that’s won all its matches in this year’s competition. The 4-2 quarterfinal victory over Greece set an international record for consecutive competitive victories. Its last tournament defeat was in the 2010 World Cup semifinal to Spain, which also beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final.
For the Greece game, German manager Joachim Loew was able to start without his entire front three, including striker Mario Gomez, who has three goals in three tournament matches. His team has been able to rest two days longer than the Italians, who had to play extra time against England.
Italy required penalties to go through after being unable to turn its superiority into goals. After 120 scoreless minutes, and 35 shots to its opponent’s nine, Alessandro Diamanti hit the decisive penalty in a 4-2 shootout.
The Italians also did it the hard way in the 2006 World Cup win over Germany. That match also looked destined for penalties before they struck twice in the final minutes of extra time through Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero.
“In the semifinals all the teams are very strong but we’ll play with our quality,” Chiellini said. “We know that Germany is good with good players, but I’m sure we are a very good team and we’ll get to the final.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Kiev via the London newsroom at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com