Jogi Löw’s team have never beaten Italy in a major international tournament
2 July ~ As Germany face Italy tonight, coach Jogi Löw is refusing to entertain the notion that there is anything like an “Italian curse” hanging over his team. That has been a common refrain over the last decade, and while it is true that Germany have yet to beat Italy at the finals of a major tournament, it is the events of 2006 that really anchored the idea in Germany’s collective psyche.
Losing in extra time in the semi-final of the World Cup marked an abrupt end to Germany’s fairytale football summer and deflated the hopes of those who thought the young team was destined to lift the trophy. The feeling that Germany cannot beat Italy was cemented by another semi-final defeat at Euro 2012, while Italy’s early exit from the World Cup two years robbed Germany of the chance to lay the hoodoo to rest.
Germany’s 4-1 demolition of Italy in a March 2016 friendly was a step in the right direction, but Löw and his players are constantly having to fend off questions about the curse nonetheless. Clearly pleased with the easy 3-0 win over Slovakia, Löw has been careful not to sound overconfident, emphasising how well Italy have played thus far and how tactically astute Antonio Conte has proved to be in his team selections.
Meanwhile, popular opinion is yet to galvanise entirely behind this Germany team. The World Cup win has led to increased expectations and although the team never looked in danger of missing out on the knockout stages, the performances have yet to convince.
The fast-flowing play that characterised the World Cup win has been in shorter supply this time around and the inability to break down a resolute Polish defence gave cause for concern. While Mario Gómez has proved effective since his recall to the starting line-up, some view the reliance on an old-fashioned striker as a retrograde step but none of the other attacking options has proved effective.
Jérôme Boateng has risen above the controversy surrounding right-wing politicians’ comments about his suitability to represent Germany and has been the most consistent performer so far. Thomas Müller has not yet hit the heights of previous tournaments, but always has the potential for the unpredictable that could make the difference against such disciplined opponents.
However, the biggest question mark concerns the selection of Mesut Özil. The playmaker’s ability is not in question, but his contribution to the tournament so far has left quite a bit to be desired – as epitomised by his soft penalty miss against Slovakia.
This game is the opportunity for Löw to finally prove to his remaining doubters that he has the tactical nous to defeat an Italian team that, had Iceland not stolen their thunder, may well have been heralded as the surprise of the tournament. In so doing, he can not only gain revenge for the pain of 2006 and 2012, but finally banish all talk of an “Italian curse”. John van Laer