Italy wants to continue run against Germany
Warsaw, Poland (Sports Network) - Italy has once again thrived under the dark clouds of another betting scandal, similar to the 1982 and 2006 World Cups, to reach the Euro 2012 semifinals.
Not expected to be much of a factor after group play, Italy has developed into a contender with 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo having some of the best performances of his life in Poland and Ukraine this summer.
Pirlo, who converted a memorable penalty in the quarterfinals against England, believed Italy can continue its surprise run against Germany on Thursday - and added the Italians unbeaten record in major tournaments against the Germans is a huge advantage.
"I am sure that they are afraid of us, looking at our record," Pirlo said, "as they won't want a repeat of 2006."
Italy and Germany last played in a major tournament in the '06 World Cup semis on German soil, and two late goals, one set up by Pirlo, in extra time led the Italians to the final where they beat France on penalty kicks.
While Italy has four World Cup titles, it has not won a Euro title in 44 years - dating back to Euro 1968. That year, Italy reached the final on a coin flip after a 0-0 draw in the semifinals against the Soviet Union.
Since a 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in the replay of the final (the first game tied 1-1), Italy has won two World Cup titles, but advanced just one more Euro final. Italy lost the Euro 2000 final to France.
"We knew we could do well from the very start," Pirlo said, "because we have the right spirit and desire. We just need to keep playing our way and try to avoid making mistakes."
Italy proved in its tournament opener, a 1-1 draw against Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 winner Spain, it was on a level playing field with the best teams in the world.
England provided little resistance in the quarterfinals, though, and Italy has to continue its 14-game unbeaten run through qualifying and the Euro finals in the semifinal at National Stadium.
With midfielder Daniele De Rossi and defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Ignazio Abate all carrying injuries, there are some worries for boss Cesare Prandelli.
Pirlo was confident Italy could extend its unbeaten run of seven competitive matches against Germany, even though four of those results were draws.
"They are a great side with the right mentality and in the last few years they have been in six semifinals," Pirlo said. "We studied them ..., but we know we can beat them.
"We will try to impose our game on them the way we did on England, although it will definitely be a different match as Germany will try to play openly."
Germany is the only squad that has won all of its Euro matches, and enters the semifinals on a record 15-game winning streak in competitive matches.
Veteran Germany striker Miroslav Klose is aware of the past with Italy, but it was not a concern for the young German team, as just a few players remain from 2006.
"That was then and now is now," Klose said. "Both teams have changed and our style of playing has changed a bit because many new and more dynamic players have been added to the squad.
"We are two different teams now and even though some of Italy's World Cup winners are still pulling the strings they have changed as well."
Although Italy has history in its favor, Spain had never defeated France in a major tournament until the quarterfinals of Euro 2012. And although Italy was the better side against England, it managed just a 0-0 draw that was decided on penalty kicks, 4-2.
"Sure, Italy pushed England back, but that will not happen against us. We will play with different tactics to England," Klose said. "I think we know where Italy's weaknesses are and we will try to use that to our advantage."
Klose has started just one match in the tournament, Germany's 4-2 victory over Greece in the quarterfinals, and scored his 64th career international goal.
He may give way to Mario Gomez, who started the first three matches and scored three goals, against Italy. In addition, it's tough to rule out any changes as Joachim Loew switched his entire attacking line in the quarterfinal.
Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle both joined Klose in the starting lineup and the duo played well enough to make Loew think about whether to turn back to Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski for the semifinals.
Germany's lone injury concern is midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, who missed some practice time with an ankle injury, but is expected to be in the lineup.
Germany is an dynamic side that leads Euro with nine goals scored, while Italy has just four in the tournament. Italy has scored six of its last seven goals in Euros from set pieces, while 11 of Germany's last 12 are from open play.
The game should come down to the side that can convert its chances, and expect the Germans to have more. But the only ones that will matter are the ones that find the net, and both goalkeepers - Manuel Neuer for Germany and Gigi Buffon for Italy - could ultimately be the difference.
"We want to try to enforce our rhythm on Italy. It will be important to seize the initiative and try to force Italy to drop deep with our game," Klose said. "We want to act, not react."