Sunday, 3 July 2016

Germany edge Italy on penalties to claim last-four berth

Germany stayed on course for a fourth European crown when they edged Italy after a nerve-jangling penalty shootout. Manuel Neuer saved two spot kicks to help secure a first competitive success against the Azzurri.

Chances were predictably scarce in the powerhouse clash in Bordeaux featuring two of the meanest defenses in world football.

Mesut Ozil fired Germany ahead in the 65th minute before Leonardo Bonucci leveled from the spot twelve minutes from time after Jerome Boateng handled in the penalty area.

Italy pulled ahead in the shootout in front of their own fans after failed attempts from Ozil and Thomas Müller but Neuer dragged them back into contention by saving Bonucci’s effort.

He then blocked Matteo Darmian’s weak kick and it was left to Jonas Hector to convert the winning penalty and put the world champions through to face France or Iceland in the semifinals.

Dominant team

Bastian Schweinsteiger also missed for Germany in the equal-longest shootout in Euros history, featuring 18 penalties, while Simone Zaza and Graziano Pelle failed for Italy.

"We were a bit unlucky with the penalty for handball during the game but I think overall we were the dominant team and deserve to be in the semifinals," Neuer told ARD television.

Germany coach Joachim Löw fielded a team featuring three across the back line that mirrored the Italian formation and the two sides largely canceled each other out in a cagey first half.

Löw was forced into making his first change after only 15 minutes when midfielder Sami Khedira sustained what looked like a groin strain and had to be replaced by Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The Germany captain made his 37th appearance in the finals of a Euro or World Cup, equaling the record set by former Germany striker Miroslav Klose.

Scuffed shot

Italy threatened in the 31st minute when a mistake by Joshua Kimmich sent Mattia De Sciglio clear down the left. However, Jerome Boateng was in the right place to clear the danger, with Emanuele Giaccherini poised to pull the trigger.

Germany went close in the 42nd minute when the ball pinged around the Italy penalty area before falling to Thomas Müller but his scuffed shot flew straight into the arms of goalkeeper Gigi Buffon.

Italy were looking marginally more likely to break the deadlock despite Germany’s domination of possession and Stefano Sturaro’s first-time effort a minute later was deflected narrowly wide by Boateng in the final meaningful action of the first period.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, though this time Germany were the first to test the opposing defense.

Acrobatically deflected

Müller found some rare space on the edge of the area in the 54th minute and his left-foot drive was acrobatically deflected wide by Alessandro Florenzi.

Gomez was instrumental in Germany’s opener with a clever pass to release Jonas Hector down the left.

Hector’s cross took a slight deflection and Ozil met the ball on the run and clipped it superbly past Buffon.

Gomez almost doubled Germany’s lead three minutes later but Buffon brilliantly diverted his backheeled effort over the crossbar.

After Gomez limped off injured and was replaced by Julian Draxler, Italy leveled thanks to a moment of madness from Boateng in the 77th minute.

Arms raised

The Bayern Munich center back inexplicably leapt into a challenge with both arms raised and when the ball struck one arm the referee had no choice but to award a penalty.

Manuel Neuer dived the right way but Bonucci’s firm strike into the corner was too good.

The first half of extra time yielded little goal-mouth action with Italy sitting deep and forcing Germany into long-range efforts that failed to trouble Buffon.

Draxler hooked over from close range shortly after the restart and substitute Lorenzo Insigne fired straight at Neuer from a tight angle in the 113th minute.

Germany’s final effort on goal came from Ozil a minute from time, a tame effort straight at Buffon, before Neuer’s heroics saw them through.

Germany had never overcome Italy in a competitive fixture and lost to them in three semi-finals, including at Euro 2012.

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