German fans were positive that their team would bury the record of never having beating Italy in a competitive match when they took on the Azzurri in the Euro 2012 final on Thursday.
But after 90 minutes, a couple of lightning strikes from Mario Balotelli and a celebration which will be remembered for quite some time, the record still stands.
There was no doubt that this was an upset. Even Italy know that. Even Germany know that they were shocked and the those who had their money on Joachim Loew’s men suddenly don’t have anything for their lager.
However, the interesting question is: how did Italy manage beating the odds-on favourites?
Won the key battles: We had a few key battles mentioned in our preview and Italy won them all. Andrea Pirlo danced around Bastian Schweinsteiger and Riccardo Montolivo’s movement was enough to stifle Sami Khedira’s long shots. Even in attack, Balotelli clearly won the battle against Holger Badstuber and Matt Hummels. These battles carry weight… and Italy proved that if you win against your zonal markers collectively, then you can win the match.
Used their creative midfielders: Germany did not really use Mesut Ozil and Schweinsteiger’s creativity last night. While the former was always in trouble against Daniele de Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini (who was fantastic by the way), the latter lacked support. But if you see Italy, their creative players created and the defensive midfielders defended. Claudio Marchisio did not try to be Pirlo or vice versa. It was Pirlo’s incisive pass which opened up the game for the first goal and Montolivo’s perfect lob set Balotelli off for the second. It was good man-management from Prandelli.
Stifled the German fullbacks: The adventurous nature of Philipp Lahm and Jerome Boateng is the reason why their real wide men Lukas Podolski and Ozil get so much of the ball in the centre of the park. But Marchisio and De Rossi marked them so well that it looked like they were on a leash. This frustrated the German attackers and Loew realised this to bring on the more skillful Marco Reus in the second half.
The insane genius of Balotelli: Did the Germans see this coming? Probably not. Did Balotelli see it coming? Probably not. The tallest centre-back pairing of Hummels and Badstuber (6’3″ and 6’2″ resp.) couldn’t mark the Italian striker for the first goal. On top of that, you cannot leave him one-on-one with the keeper. He is simply lethal. Italy always knew whom to aim for and once the pass was in, the t-shirt was off.
Scored and deployed the Catenaccio: Score a couple of goals and suddenly they became the Italy of old. Germany simply didn’t have a chance after that. They attacked, but how many clear chances did they have? Maybe Lahm could have been covered better when he missed in the second half and maybe Reus should have been handled more efficiently. But at the end of the day, the Italians defended well… and that is expected.
Maybe they will struggle against Spain and maybe Italy had a perfect day while the Germans became overconfident. But this is a result that could herald a new beginning for the Azzurri.