Germany pip Italy on penalties to advance to Euro semis
Bordeaux (France), July 3 (IANS) Germany ended a decades-long string of major football tournament defeats to Italy by prevailing 6-5 in a nerve-wrecking nine-round penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw to claim a spot in the Euro 2016 semi-finals.
After 120 minutes of hard-fought action and 18 penalties on Saturday, Germany nailed the win as defender Jonas Hector ended the breathtaking duel with a low shot which was inches away from being saved by Italy veteran keeper Gianluigi Buffon, reports Xinhua.
The shootout began with Lorenzo Insigne and Toni Kroos each converting. In the second round, late substitute Simeone Zaza sent the ball sailing over the net, while Buffon stopped Thomas Mueller. Andrea Barzagli connected for Italy before Mesut Oezil hit the post, leaving his side down 1-2, reports Efe.
Next up for Italy was Graziano Pelle, who missed the net. Julian Draxler converted with authority and Neuer saved Leonardo Bonucci's effort to leave the count at 2-2. Bastian Schweinsteiger fired high.
Emmanuele Giaccherini scored to give an Italy a 3-2 edge that lasted only as long as it took Mats Hummels to connect.
Marco Parolo, Joshua Kimmich, Mattia De Sciglio and Jerome Boateng traded goals to bring the tally to 5-5. Manuel Neuer's stop on Darmian set the stage for young Jonas Hector to be Germany's newest hero and he made no mistake.
The 2014 World Cup champions will face the winner of Sunday's quarter-final between tournament host France and upstart Iceland.
The shoot-out provided the only sustained drama in a match that failed to live up to expectations due mainly to a lack of confidence on the part of the more-talented German side.
Germany coach Joachim Low made just one change to his side that defeated Slovakia 3-0 in the pre-quarterfinals with Benedikt Howedes coming into the starting line-up to replace Draxler and to transform a back four into a three, with Kimmich and Hector operating as wing-backs.
Italy tactician Antonio Conte also made one alteration to his side that outplayed two-time defending champions Spain 2-0 with central midfielder Stefano Sturaro replacing the injured Daniele De Rossi.
Schweinsteiger, who came in for the injured Sami Khedira in the 15th minute, thought he had put Germany ahead in the 27th minute after heading in a long pass from Hummels. But the goal was called back because Schweinsteiger fouled defender De Sciglio to reach the ball.
Italy's best opportunity of the first half came in the final minute before the break, as Giaccherini delivered a cross into the box only for Stefano Sturaro's shot to be deflected wide.
The Germans shifted into a higher gear after the break and it took an acrobatic clearance from Alessandro Florenzi to deny Mueller in the 54th minute.
Five minutes after the hour mark, Mario Gomez beat three Italian defenders to feed the ball to Hector, whose cross reached an onrushing Ozil to put Germany ahead 1-0.
Gomez looked set to settle the contest a few minutes later, but Buffon was perfectly positioned to make the save.
The Italians equalised in the 78th minute as the result of a shocking blunder by seasone defender Boateng, who thrust both his arms in the air while trying to outmaneuver Giorgio Chiellini, whose header bounced off the defender's elbow to draw a foul for hand ball.
Bonucci took the penalty kick and beat Bayern Munich keeper Neuer with a low shot to make it 1-1.
Germany, haunted by their dismal record against the Azzurri, were flat for the remainder of regulation, though they showed a lot more ambition than the Italians during the two overtime periods of 15 minutes each. Penalty shoot-out followed and Germany won, albeit by just.
Neuer was voted as the Man-of-the-Match. He said: "It's a drama. I had never seen such things before. Luckily we succeeded and reached the semi-finals.
"Of course I was prepared basically in the penalties. The Italians didn't chose the corner they picked last time. I think they did their preparations well. And they know I did mine," he added.
Italy coach Conte said, "They need 18 penalties to beat us. I think Germany have huge respect for Italy. After the 2014 World Cup, they changed formation. It was a tough match from every perspective."