With Spain advancing to the finals last night, today we move on to Germany versus Italy to find out who will face them on Sunday.
Spain v. Portugal
Thursday 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST
Italy head into the match clear underdogs, and having to go to penalties to defeat England on Sunday—two days after Germany dispatched Greece—seems unlikely to help their chances. Then too, beyond basic concerns over fatigue there are questions about the fitness of Daniele De Rossi, Ignazio Abate, and Giorgio Chiellini. All three are carrying knocks, and though they are expected to be available to coach Cesare Prandelli, with the opposing German side both more rested and with fewer injury concerns it's an issue likely to be on the minds of the team and their supporters.
As for the Germans, the only real fitness question mark concerns Bastian Schweinsteiger. The midfield anchor has struggled to return to his best—especially when forced to play a number of matches close together—after an injury-plagued season that saw him break his collarbone in November and tear ligaments in his ankle in February. In his case, though, the safe money says that if he can walk, Joachim Low will have him on the pitch from the opening kick. The real headaches for Low are instead likely to come when trying to decide which of Germany's attacking options will get to play ahead of Schweinsteiger and fellow central midfielder Sami Khedira.
The biggest question is likely to be whether tournament scoring leader and Crispin Glover doppelganger Mario Gomez will be re-introduced to the starting eleven after missing out against Greece or if Low will stick with speedy elder statesmen Miroslav Klose up front. And though Mesut Ozil and his team-leading three assists seem a lock linking midfield with attack, it's far less certain which of players like Lucas Podolski, Mario Gotze, and Toni Kross might get the nod to play alongside whichever striker Germany goes with.
No matter who Low chooses, though, his has been a German side that has cruised through the Euros so far. They topped the toughest group, managing to secure all nine available points along the way, before putting four past a Greek side who were lucky to get away without being further embarrassed. However, given the high expectations for this collection of German stars and considering some of what they did at the last World Cup and in qualification, it's not unfair to say that despite that success, what flair and attacking verve they have shown has been the slightest bit underwhelming.
It's hard to fault the Germans for being held to a single goal in victory over a tough and determined Portuguese side in the opener, but it is harder to excuse their wastefulness in front of goal in the second match against a Dutch side that for long stretches appeared completely lost. Even against Denmark and Greece, whether looking at the often poor finishing or tendency for moves to break down when what should have been simple passes went astray, Germany has often seemed somewhat short of their best—and their biggest enemy has seemed to be themselves. An Italy that's exhausted, has injury concerns, and isn't the defensive juggernaut they once were, though, could be just what Germany need to click back into high gear at the perfect time.
When it comes to those Italians, despite looking strong against Spain in the opener, since then it's been a mixed bag. They dominated Croatia early but allowed the underdogs to draw level late; they may have had the least convincing victory in their group over an Irish side playing for pride when they were still playing for advancement; and they had to go to penalties to defeat England when they weren't able to take advantage of creating far more scoring chances than their opponent. There are also questions about the best way for their current squad to set up, with many of the available personnel seeming a natural fit for the 3-5-2 they began the tournament using but with Pandrelli appearing to favour the four-man backline he reverted to at the first opportunity.
Still, while they may be obvious underdogs, if the Italians can manage to create a little bit of space for Andrea Pirlo to work his magic in then anything could be possible. And if it's not meant to be for them, a rematch of the Eruo 2008 final between Spain and Germany is hardly the worst thing to look forward to.