How Loew's men can overcome the Azzurri
How Germany can finally end Azzurri hoodoo in epic clash
GERMANY v ITALY
(Tomorrow, 2.50am, Singtel TV Ch 142 & StarHub TV Ch 220 - Eleven EURO)
Joachim Loew was asked about the upcoming quarter-final.
Germany had the pedigree, but Italy had the track record.
Surely, the thought of those big, bad bogeys were haunting his sleepless nights.
"Sleepless nights?" he replied, incredulous at the question. "No, I'm sleeping very well."
As world champions, Germany's coach should sleep easily. As an eternal pragmatist, he could be forgiven a little tossing and turning.
Heavy lies the burden of history, even among Teutonic kings. The Germans shook up the world. But they can't shake off Italy.
The Azzurri have Germany's number, it's tattooed through their DNA.
Europe's old heavyweights have contested eight contests in tournament football.
The Italians have never tasted defeat. Four wins and four draws equal uncertainty for the Germans, tapping away like a neurotic woodpecker at their teak-like confidence.
The two teams meet in the Battle of Bordeaux tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and Loew, who often enjoys a tinker in pivotal knockout games, may need to return to the whiteboard again to end his country's poor record.
Here's how Germany might finally beat off the bogeys.
1 Back three versus back three?
Germany's destruction of Italy in an international friendly in March was more than a dress rehearsal for Euro 2016.
It threw half a monkey off Germans backs, as the 4-1 win was their first over Italy since 1995.
More importantly, Loew opted for three centre backs.
As Spain discovered against Italy in the Round of 16, a pressing game often hits a wall of three - or five when the wingbacks withdraw.
The Italians too struggled against Germany's back three in the friendly, unable to break quickly past more fluid opponents. In the end, they were picked off rather easily.
The temptation must be there for Loew to revert to a back three, a risky proposition certainly, but not necessarily drastic.
Joshua Kimmich's explosive effort against Slovakia was the definitive wingback's performance in all but name. Even if Loew sticks with four, Kimmich and Jonas Hector will be worked harder than they were in the Slovakia stroll.
2 Kroos should run riot
An advertising campaign for Audi once used a German phrase and exported it to the world - Vorsprung durch Technik. Toni Kroos seems to live by it.
The phrase roughly translates as "progress through technology" and, although the midfielder is not a manufactured automaton, he plays as if created by engineers seeking to maximise efficiency through a sleek, captivating model.
Germany are often compared to relentless terminators, more machine than man but, if the old guard were stiff, cold Arnold Schwarzenegger types, Kroos is the one from Terminator 2 made from liquid metal.
He's faster, fluid and he will not stop. He leads the tournament stats with 410 successful passes. Italy's defensive midfielders are there for the taking.
With Daniele De Rossi injured and Thiago Motta suspended, Marco Parolo may replace De Rossi in the anchoring role with Stefano Sturaro perhaps pushed further forward.
Whatever option Antonio Conte chooses, it's a messy one, going against Italy's well-drilled, consistent narrative.
Their midfield is suddenly exposed and vulnerable. Kroos is waiting.
3 Keep an eye on them, Khedira
Coming into the tournament, Italy's forward line consisted of that guy who sounded Brazilian and the really good-looking bloke at Southampton who appeared more suited to the catwalk than a penalty box.
Now they are known as Eder and Graziano Pelle, the most reliable striking duo at Euro 2016.
Italy's back three and flying wingbacks allow the Azzurri to get the ball to the front two quickly, as demonstrated in their fabulous second goal against Spain.
Ironically, the kind of footballer who allowed them to flourish is the kind of footballer now needed to stop them.
In other words, Sami Khedira must play like De Rossi. Shepherd the back four (or three). Sit behind Kroos. Catch the counter-attackers.
Italy exploited the space between Sergio Busquets and his back four and Khedira should heed the warning from the Spaniards. Mind the gap.
4 Release the Draxler
Julian Draxler has the kind of name typical of Bond villains and he scared the living daylights out of the Slovakians.
Apart from providing a greater attacking urgency and feeding Germany's front three, he'll also attack Italy's right side.
It's Conte's tactical weak spot. Parolo, Sturaro and perhaps even Alessandro Florenzi might all be shuffled to accommodate De Rossi's and possibly Antonio Candreva's absence.
Draxler felt like the final piece against Slovakia. He could have the final word against Italy.
BY THE NUMBERS
175 Germany midfielder Toni Kroos’ 175 completed passes in the final third at Euro 2016 are more than that managed by the entire Iceland team (155).
"He is the one responsible for our game’s symmetry. We need creativity and guts to beat Italy."
- Germany coach Joachim Loew on Toni Kroos