It took the most un-German penalty shootout you could imagine to do the one thing that Germany has never done, beat Italy at a major tournament. After a tense 120 minutes that resulted in only one goal from open play, Germany conquered their historic rival in a dramatic penalty shootout. Manuel Neuer stopped Matteo Darmian’s attempt and Jonas Hector scored the winning Penalty to send Germany to their sixth consecutive semifinal.
Most of the match was fairly lackluster, which each coach’s gameplan snuffing the other’s out. It was a game for the tactical purists, more so than for any thrill seeker. Both sides had very few attempts on target in the first half. The best chance actually fell to Italy when a Stefano Sturaro shot was deflected at the last moment by Jerome Boateng.
Germany was fairly cautious for most of the 120 minutes. However, Italy’s stout defense deserves much of the credit as they held them at bay for long stretches. Very little space was allowed to either Thomas Müller or Mario Gomez, with the former continuing to search for his first goal at a European Championship.
The second half was a bit more lively than the first, as Germany opened the scoring. Gomez, found himself holding up play on the flank which allowed Hector to run behind the Italian defense. Hector’s low cross into the middle found it’s way past plenty of blue shirts and onto the foot of Mesut Özil who gave the World Champions a 1-0 lead.
Germany’s best stretch of play came just after they scored, and was it not for a terrific save by Gianluigi Buffon on Gomez it could have been game over for the Azzurri. Italy fought through Germany’s surge and not long after they won a penalty when Jerome Boateng strangely decided to jump with his hands well over his head. The good news and bad news for Germany was that Italy would have a chance to level the score, but Boateng was not booked, keeping him from being suspended from the semifinal.
Leonardo Bonucci took responsibility for the penalty and coolly finished it to level the score. Bonucci did stutter in his run-up, which technically hasn’t been legal, but as seen in most matches this tournament, referee’s aren’t willing to make that call. All-in-all it was a fine penalty.
From that point on it looked destined to go to a Penalty shootout. The best chance in extra time came on a German counter, but a dreadful pass by Julian Draxler, which would have surely played in Müller, harmlessly went out for a goal kick.
If Germany was going to advance to their sixth consecutive semifinal at both the Euros and World Cup, they would need to beat Italy in a Penalty shootout.
It wasn’t a stereotypical penalty shootout by the Germans, misses from Müller, Özil and Schweinsteiger meant Neuer needed to come up big. Fortunately for Germany, he did just that. After Zaza air-mailed his shot and Graziano Pellé rolled his attempt wide, Neuer made gigantic stops on Darmian and Bonucci. Germany was on a knife’s edge at two moments when Joshua Kimmich and Mats Hummels had to score to avoid getting eliminated. However, when Hector stepped up he had a chance to fire Germany into the semifinals, and his shot snuck under Buffon and millions of Germans around the world exhaled.
Germany will take on Iceland or France in Marseille on Thursday. They will be without Hummels who picked up another yellow card and will be suspended for that match. Sami Khedira, who was subbed off in the first half due to injury is going to be a question mark for that game.
Germany will be relieved they finally got the better of Italy, but for them, this tournament is far from over. Their focus will now switch from ending a curse, to joining Spain, and the 1976 German side as being the only teams to win a European Championship while also holding the title of World Champions.