Unexpected heroes emerge as Germany extend penalty record
By Ed Dove
BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) - Germany coach Joachim Loew and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer praised the team's less experienced players for stepping up to convert in their dramatic penalty shootout against Italy, firing the world champions into the Euro 2016 final four.
Something had to give in Bordeaux as Saturday's 1-1 draw meandered to penalties, with Italy's immense 4-0 record against their rivals in tournament knockout matches being jeopardized by Germany's astonishing five consecutive shootout triumphs.
While experienced hands Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger missed their spotkicks, inexperienced Joshua Kimmich, who only made his national team debut in May, found the net in sudden death.
Minutes later Jonas Hector, with just 19 international caps to his name, converted the decisive penalty to give Germany a 6-5 shootout victory.
"Usually, we have good penalty takers, although they haven’t scored today," Loew told journalists. "The experienced players missed and the youngsters scored.
"It was great that youngsters like Kimmich and Hector, in their first major tournament, kept their nerves on such a stage
"Takers one to five were clear quite quickly," Loew added, of the epic shootout. "Then you have to let players choose depending on their feelings.
"We've seen how much pressure was on their shoulders," added Neuer. "So it took a lot of courage for (Hector) to step up."
Germany took the lead through Ozil's 65th-minute opener, but Italy equalised 13 minutes later when Leonardo Bonucci scored from the spot after Jerome Boateng's handball.
They hadn't missed a penalty in a shootout since 1982 before Saturday's drama, but Mueller and Ozil both failed to find the net after Toni Kroos scored his spotkick.
Bonucci missed his penalty- - Italy's fifth - - but Schweinsteiger blazed over the bar as the exchange went to sudden death.
When Matteo Darmian's effort was saved by Neuer, Hector, participating in his first-ever shootout, stepped up to keep Germany's magnificent shootout record alive.
"I can't describe the feeling," Hector told German television. "I took my heart in my hands and just wanted to score."
While Germany extend their impressive shootout record, Italy have now lost six of their nine shootouts in major tournaments.
"I didn't know about the history ... about the statistics and our historic success," said Neuer.
"You can't just assume that if it's penalties, Germany advance."
Victory sets Germany up for a semi-final against either France or Iceland in Marseille on Thursday.
(Editing by John Irish)