Germany vs Italy, a clash which never disappoints

It wasn’t anything like the extra-time when they met at Mexico 70, that unforgettable half hour at the Azteca, but last night’s game will stick in our minds for another reason – the seemingly endless penalty shoot-out, in which three were missed by either side in the first five following by a prolonged, nerve-shredding sudden death. Each team ended having to take nine penalties. Among those who missed from the spot was Zaza, who came on right at the end of extra-time, as a presumed specialist. Buffon read practically all of them spot on, just a few escaping him by centimetres. Among those was the final, decisive kick. Neuer’s guesswork wasn’t quite so sharp as his opposite number, but all of the penalties he should have saved, he did. And so Germany advance.

It was an appealing finale to a game which was anything but - a game heavy on tactics and high in caution - one to enjoy only if you are watching from the point of view of technical scribbles on the dressing room blackboard. The first half was too sluggish. The game opened up only after Germany opened the scoring in the second half, when Mario Gómez delivered a pass which Laudrup would have been proud of that sliced open the Italian defence leaving Özil to slot home. Only then did Italy get into gear, and levelled after a clanger from Boateng: as he was contesting a high ball in the box, he raised both arms as if to show that he wasn’t making contact with Chiellini but the ball struck him on his right arm. Bonucci fired in from the spot. The penalty he has converted, in normal play and not in shoot-outs, in his career.

Later he would miss in the shoot-out. In contrast, Boateng put his away. So, Germany go through and one would imagine they will face France, who welcome Iceland to Saint-Denis tonight – a sort of Viking-Leicester who have been winning matches and admirers throughout Euro 2016. No one will be betting their bottom dollar on them tonight – but then, neither would they have in the previous games and look what happened. As we all know the other semi-final is between Wales and Portugal, or rather, Bale and Cristiano. Bale is being eulogized back home in en Gales where he is considered a national hero, and quite rightly too. He is the heart and soul of the team, just like Cristiano is in his. Anyway, either Wales or Portugal will be in the final. And who would have thought that?