BY WRITING THE perfect script, Cesare Prandelli ruined what had been the presumed narrative of the tournament.
Since 2010 World Cup, really, all had seemed to be building up to the ultimate showdown between Spain and Germany; a match to potentially make history or set the future; Spanish dominance against increasing German dynamism.
Jogi Loew’s side, of course, only added weight to such expectation throughout this tournament. As a fatigued Spain struggled through a series of games and deeper arguments about their style, Germany effortlessly blazed a trail and raised the excitement levels with their exhilarating football.
Until, tonight, Italy raised their own game and eliminated them. Following on from his tactical masterclass against Spain in their first match, manager Prandelli out-thought Loew while his team outfought the Germans. Mario Balotelli, meanwhile, outperformed everyone on the pitch with his finishing.
But, as exceptional as Italy were, the game also exposed the flaws in this German team and illustrated why many of the arguments about Spain’s style – which Italy, of course, have adopted – were misplaced.
Ultimately, the Germans had no handbrake. For all the energy that often made them unplayable, they didn’t have the pause so evident in Andrea Pirlo that allows them to actually control games. At this most exacting stage of the tournament, they’re too hectic.
The two goals were classic examples. Germany seemed in such a rush that they forgot to close the back door. Twice Balotelli exposed the gaping holes in their defence.
As much as Germany offered him the opportunities, though, the Manchester City striker deserves credit for taking them with extreme prejudice. The second strike may well be goal of the tournament. It was perfect.
Meanwhile, there can surely be very little argument about player of the tournament. Not only did Pirlo control the game, by doing so he illustrated exactly what the Germans were missing.
Now, they’ll also be missing out on the trophy. Again.
The 16 year-wait will now become 18 and the increasing question is whether they are a ‘nearly team’. This is the second successive semi-final Germany have lost and, in this one, there was a worrying flatness about them.
Although the admirable German infrastructure has given their players so many brilliant abilities, there is an argument that they may have forgotten to imbue them with so many of the mental qualities that defined their world European champions of the past.
So, instead of a repeat of the 2008 final and 2010 semi, we’ll get a repeat of the first game of Group C.
Prandelli has the chance to finish the job he started then and actually beat Spain.
Spain have the chance to finish the job they started four years ago and make history.
As far as this tournament goes, though, it’s the Germans who are history.