There are slow-burning, tactical battles, and there is Germany versus Italy in the quarterfinals of EURO 2016 on Saturday in Bordeaux, France.
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With Germany boss Joachim Loew throwing out a tactical surprise of his own prior to kickoff — the Germans elected to match Antonio Conte’s five-man backline with a five-man defensive unit of their own, complete with lots of high, aggressive pressing — the game played out just as you might have expected: disjointed play featuring lots of fouls and few genuine scoring chances in the opening 60 minutes.
In the end, it took nine rounds of hilariously bad penalty kicks for Germany to come out on top and book their place in the semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Sunday’s fourth and final quarterfinal, between the tournament hosts, France, and the tournament darlings, Iceland.
Mario Gomez, somewhat surprisingly, proved himself Germany’s best player on the day, with the majority of Germany’s success in the final third coming via the Fiorentina striker. It was the much-maligned Gomez who did yeoman’s work during the build-up to Mesut Ozil’s opening goal in the 65th minute.
After a quick one-two at midfield, Gomez broke down the left flank and held the ball up exceptionally, which allowed everyone else to join in on the attack. Gomez played a simple through ball fro Jonas Hector into the penalty area, and though Hector’s cross was deflected, it fell to Ozil at the top of the six-yard box, and the Arsenal playmaker made no mistake with his first-time finish.
Italy equalized 13 minutes later, though, when Jerome Boateng handled the ball inside the penalty area, and did so with his arms and hands raised above his head in an attempt to show the referee he wasn’t committing a foul with his body, only to commit a shocking handball violation. Leonardo Bonucci stepped up and converted the ensuing penalty with ease.
Back on level terms, the remainder of regular time and all of extra time played out predictably once again. The penalty shootout was a comedy of horrifically taken spot-kicks, from Simone Zaza’s twinkle-toes run-up; to Thomas Mueller’s weakly hit, center-third strike; to Ozil’s clanger off the post; to Graziano Pelle‘s slow-roller wide of the post; to Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s space-bound rocket ship. Hector hit the clinching spot kick, following the failure of Matteo Darmiam, to seal Germany’s place in the semis.