The ‘Italien-Fluch’ is over. And how.
Eight previous competitive meetings against Italy had not resulted in one Germany win. It was a statistic worthy of its own moniker. For a nation of Germany’s rich history, it was remarkable record of failure.
And yet they did their utmost to extend it further – Bastian Schweinsteiger, their most experienced player, blazing over a penalty that would have settled a mad-cap quarter-final shootout after the match ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.
They were to be handed another chance as Manuel Neuer saved Matteo Darmian’s shot and Jonas Hector made no mistake this time round to book a place in Euro 2016’s final four.
The pedants will argue it is not a ‘proper’ victory, coming in the method it did, but try telling that to Germany’s supporters. The wild celebrations told their own story.
It was a thrilling denouement to a largely forgettable game with Italy’s defensive wall looking impregnable and coach Antonio Conte seemingly content to play for spot-kicks and then hope the curse continued.
Having eulogised so long about Germany, describing them as “the most complete side in the world”, at his pre-match press conference, Conte’s risk-averse strategy was as predictable as it was understandable.
It even prompted a change in tactics from Germany boss Joachim Low, who ditched his usual 4-4-2 and brought Benedikt Howedes into a three-man defence, perhaps in an attempt to match up with Italy and then let their supposedly superior players do the rest.
For the most part it worked. Germany dominated possession, and having Hector and Joshua Kimmich bombing up the flanks allowed Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller to wander closer to striker Mario Gomez.
The one question Low struggled to answer, though, was how to find a way past the ‘BBBC’ – the Juventus quartet of Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
Time and again, Germany’s attacks were repelled before they reached veteran Buffon.
The dam eventually broke after 65 minutes, Ozil sweeping home from close range after good link-up play down the left between Hector and Gomez.
With Italy reeling, Germany pressed for a swift second but Buffon stood firm, a brilliant tip-over as Chiellini steered towards his own goal in tackling Gomez keeping his side in the game.
It was to prove a pivotal moment as Italy were handed a lifeline by an inexplicable piece of defending from Jerome Boateng.
Why the Bayern Munich defender opted to jump with his arms in the air as he moved behind Chiellini, only he can answer. Chiellini duly flicked on Alessandro Florenzi’s cross straight on to Boateng’s hand and Bonucci converted the penalty with assurance.
With something to defend, the earlier pattern of the match returned with Italy happy to cede possession and Germany lacking the guile to make further inroads.
Extra time was uneventful, save for an overhead kick from Julian Draxler after a surprising moment of indecision from the Azzurri backline.
And so to the most dramatic of shoot-outs that saw 18 penalties taken.
Neuer and Hector had the final say and, finally, the Fluch was broken.