16 Conclusions From Germany 1 Italy 2

Joachim Loew said it would "make no sense" to make special plans for Andrea Pirlo and then promptly made (really bad) special plans for Andrea Pirlo...

Last Updated: 29/06/12 at 09:26 Post Comment

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* "That would make no sense," was Joachim Loew's reaction when asked if he had any specific plans to stop Andrea Pirlo dictating play in Italy's semi-final with Germany as he had against England in the quarter-finals. So why did it suddenly make sense to move Germany's most creative player (Mezut Ozil) out of the centre of the park and bring Toni Kroos into Pirlo's space - an experiment that looked ill-conceived on paper and even more ridiculous on the pitch. Sorry Joachim, but it looked very much like a specific plan to stop Pirlo. And you're right, it made no sense.

* Ozil had been phenomenal against both Denmark and Greece in his role behind a lone striker and picked up three assists and a whole heap of plaudits. So what does Loew do? Moves him out wide and plays neither Marco Reus nor Thomas Muller. That's a whole lot of movement to incorporate Kroos, who was presumably detailed to keep close to Pirlo. It worked about as well as Roy Hodgson detailing Wayne Rooney to keep an eye on Pirlo. We were told in the build-up to the game that the Germans would not make the same mistakes as England. Not only did they make the same mistakes...they added a few of their own.

* We all expected Germany's faster, more aggressive game - helped by two precious extra days' rest - to blow the Italians away. Just as England did on Sunday, Germany started on the front foot and showed the Italian defence to be wobbly, nervous and vulnerable. And then just as England did on Sunday, they too quickly surrendered their weapons and allowed Italy to set the pace of the game. That pace was inevitably slower and as soon as Italy were allowed time to play in central midfield, it became about Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Daniele De Rossi looking for the movement of Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

* And what movement? But as good as Cassano and Balotelli were in that opening half, Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber were rotten in defence. Hummels in particular has been lauded throughout this tournament but what we realised on Thursday night was that they simply had not been tested. Hummels' mistake to allow Cassano to cross the ball for Balotelli's opener was truly extraordinary, while Badstuber was too easily lost by the Italian as he powered home to make it 1-0. They could do worse than sit down and watch the defensive masterclass offered by Pepe and Bruno Alves on Wednesday night and reflect that they still have a lot to learn.

* Mind you, of all the people to make a complete hash of being the 'last man' at a corner - we give you, Herr Philipp Lahm. The uber-experienced consummate professional made what we can only describe as a cock of an attempt at catching Balotelli offside and ended up lumbering after him like a German John Terry. Surely they watched England v Italy and knew that the straight ball down the middle was Italy's favourite weapon. Montelivo supplied, Lahm stepped up and Balotelli galloped away to finish.

* In highlighting Germany's mistakes, it might seem like not enough credit is being given to Balotelli. Not so. Football365 have long been pilloried for our unashamed love of Mario - not (only) for the madness, but for the sheer verve of his football. For he is capable of the sublime as well as the ridiculous. His two goals against Germany (the first a lesson in finding space in the box and the second a convincing argument for hitting the ball hard and early) were just reward for a performance where endeavour met genius. And it was so nice to see him smile. More please.

* And this was lovely too. He said after the game: "The best moment of the night was when I saw my mother after the game. I told her those goals were for her." Sweet.

* When he hit that second goal, it seemed he had read his Einstein and learned from past mistakes. Against both Spain and England he had wasted goalscoring opportunities through hesitation - finding himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper and then slowing down enough to allow a defender to recover. He afforded Lahm no such gift and Manuel Neuer did not have a chance of stopping a stunning, swerving, unerring strike.

* Balotelli was helped against Germany by a classic No. 10 performance from Cassano, who had Gianluca Vialli purring and evoking the name of Gianfranco Zola. He was poor against England - whose organised midfield afforded him little space - but neither the German defence nor midfield wanted to take responsibility for picking him up and the result was the freedom to prompt and probe. Every front-line striker needs a foil and he was everything Wayne Rooney failed to be against Italy on Sunday.

* Some of the blame for Cassano's freedom has to fall on Loew for picking Bastian Schweinsteiger, who seems to have been afforded the same misguided loyalty as Rooney. Despite being patently unfit and frankly awful against Greece on Friday, Schweinsteiger lined up once again alongside Sami Khedira and proceeded to sleepwalk through the game. "Against Greece he was poor, but he realises that himself. Against Italy that won't happen," said Loew. You sure about that, fella? Somewhere in Germany, a Teutonic John Nicholson is writing that big-name players should not be afforded blind loyalty.

* "I would like to know why I would change," was Mario Gomez's response to criticism from Mehmet Scholl after Germany's opening group game. "Because you kind of need to move against good defenders," might be the answer after Gomez made Andy Carroll look like a whirlwind with a depiction of 'immobile' that bordered on performance art. He touched the ball 13 times in the first half before being withdrawn and you suspect that 11 were on the stretch after he'd been caught on his heels again. The difference between him and Balotelli - often accused of lacking effort - was stark and surely even he knew to take off his spotless boots when he came off the pitch after 45 statuesque minutes.

* Loew's half-time changes and long-overdue injection of pace and urgency would probably have been enough to see off most teams including England, but this was Italy. Give them 45 minutes to hang onto a 2-0 lead and they lap it up like the most sumptuous food and drink. Germany suddenly had width through Reus and movement from Miroslav Klose but Italy had years of training for exactly these scenarios. Germany huffed and puffed but this Italian house was not for blowing down. And whenever they snatched back the ball, the pass masters in the Italian midfield ensured that not only was it safe, they actually looked more likely to score. But for some errant finishing, Italy would have been out of sight.

* It's truly wonderful to see defenders punching the air to celebrate last-ditch tackles and clearances.

* Alan Hansen would have enjoyed that defending - with Federico Balzaretti pretty much flawless before his late handball - but we would pay good money to watch his reaction to Balotelli's match-winning performance. I can hear Hansen saying the word 'liability' in my head as I type this and I'm grinning at the thought. For Hansen, football is all about 'percentages' and that leaves no room for mavericks. It should also leave no room for Mark Lawrenson, but enough has been said elsewhere about his 'performances' at this tournament.

* Look, we all like Pirlo and he's a pleasure to watch etc etc but can we lay off all this Messi-like 'Ooh, he's given the ball away, he is human after all' fawning commentary? He's not the messiah, he's just a bloody good footballer.

* Where now for Germany? Well, we keep hearing that this team is young and has time, but we are also hearing that the majority of the German public expected them to win this tournament. Pressure has no respect for youth and there's a chance that this particular Golden Generation will end up winning no more than those from England or Portugal in recent years. There's certainly a sense that these young pretenders were crowned before their time and it will be interesting to see whether they go to Brazil with the same air of infallibility.

Sarah Winterburn

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