Germany recorded their first-ever major tournament win over Italy at the ninth attempt to seal their spot in the semi-finals of EURO 2016 following their sudden death penalty shootout triumph in Bordeaux.
Leonardo Bonucci’s spot-kick 13 minutes from time cancelled out Mesut Ozil’s 65th minute opener to force this mouthwatering quarter-final into extra-time and penalties, where FC Koln full-back Jonas Hector struck home the decisive goal from 12 yards out to send the reigning world champions into the last-four of this summer’s European Championships.
Germany have now reached at least the semi-finals in each of their last six major tournaments – improving upon their already impressive run by recording 15 wins from their last 18 encounters at major tournaments – drawing twice and losing once (a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the semi-finals of EURO 2012).
Germany reverted to a back three inside the Matmut Atlantique, with coach Joachim Low bringing in defender Benedikt Howedes for Julian Draxler, with the Schalke centre-half linking up alongside Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng as Germany’s last line of defence.
Meanwhile opposing manager Antonio Conte also made one change in charge of the Azzurri, with the injured Daniele De Rossi (thigh) replaced by Juventus’ Stefano Sturaro following their 2-0 win over defending European champions Spain in the Round of 16.
However the opening half an hour was a cagey affair in Bordeaux, with both sets of solid defences cancelling each other out as neither side could carve out any real goalmouth action.
But it was early substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger, who replaced the injured Sami Khedira inside 16 minutes, who had the ball in the back of the net – only for referee Viktor Kassi to rule out his neat header after a blatant push on Mattia De Sciglio in the build-up.
Moments before the half-time whistle, the reigning world champions then threatened to open the scoring, twice in quick succession.
Firstly Mario Gomez couldn’t keep his header down from Joshua Kimmich’s cross, before the ball cannoned back to Thomas Muller from 16 yards out, but the Bayern Munich forward wasn’t expecting the opportunity and his effort was easily gathered by veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
But just before the referee could blow the half-time whistle, Emanuele Giaccherini’s low cross found Sturaro on the edge of the German penalty box, but his rifling first time shot was deflected behind brilliantly by a brave Boateng.
After no change of personnel for either nation at the interval; besides Germany’s early change regarding Khedira and Schweinsteiger, only an incredible and acrobatic block from Alessandro Florenzi denied Low’s side breaking the deadlock nine minutes into the second-half.
A long ball up field was controlled neatly by Gomez, who teed up Muller on the edge of the 18-yard area, but his left-footed strike was superbly turned round for a corner by the outstretched flick of Florenzi’s heel. Outstanding defending – in mid-air!
But just eight minutes later; Germany finally found a way through the Azzurri’s stubborn defence, with midfielder Ozil burying his first goal of this summer’s finals.
Great work down the left-flank by Gomez found full-back Hector sprint into the penalty area, before his deflected cross fell kindly into path of the Arsenal ace, who sidefooted the ball home from 10 yards out.
Despite being beaten just minutes earlier; Italy and Juventus legend Buffon pulled off one of the best saves of EURO 2016, so far, to deny Gomez doubling Germany’s lead.
Midfield maestro Ozil chipped the ball through to Gomez, who perfectly beat the offside trap, only for the Fiorentina forward’s backheel to be tipped over amazingly by the 38-year-old shot stopper from point blank range.
That super save proved vital, as with just 13 minutes remaining inside the Matmut Atlantique, Conte’s men drew level from the penalty spot.
Florenzi, who denied Germany an earlier opener in the second-half, had his delivery blatantly handled in the box by Boateng – who gifted defender Bonucci the opportunity to bring the Azzurri back level from 12 yards out.
The 29-year-old made no mistake from the spot, beating Manuel Neuer at his left-hand post, with Bonucci becoming the first player at this year’s tournament to score against the resolute Germans.
Then with the final whistle beckoning, De Sciglio tried to hog the limelight and snatch a late winner, but his long-range effort could only ripple Neuer’s side netting.
Once referee Kassi blew the full-time whistle; both teams instantly slumped as fatigue took its toll as this quarter-final tie would be dragged out to 120 minutes of play, although there was nothing to shout about in the first period f extra-time.
With 15 minutes left; otherwise a penalty shootout would determine Saturday night’s victors, substitute Julian Draxler should have done better with an acrobatic effort from five yards out after Italy failed to clear a cross convincingly, before the Wolfsburg playmaker had the perfect opportunity to send Muller through one-on-one with Buffon – but the 22-year-old ultimately over hit his through ball.
One-hundred and twenty minutes! One-hundred and twenty minutes were up and these two nations were still all sqaure, meaning only spot-kicks would eventually separate European giants Germany and Italy inside the Matmut Atlantique on the night.
Muller, Ozil and Schweinsteiger all efforts for the Germans, but Graziano Pelle, Bonucci and last-gasp substitute Simone Zaza did exactly likewise to level matters up at 2-2 after five spot-kicks each.
But it was Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian who would be deemed the scapegoat in this quarter-final, as his tame effort towards the right corner was easily parried by shot stopper Neuer, gifting Hector the golden opportunity.
And from 12 yards out, the 26-year-old blasted the ball through a devastated Buffon to record Italy’s first-ever major tournament victory over the Azzurri and send his nation into the semi-finals of EURO 2016.
Man of the Match: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)
The 29-year-old simply didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.
Bonucci did everything possible to help the Azzurri conquer the reigning world champions, but even his first-ever penalty in his career – which he scored in emphatic style [by the way] – wasn’t enough to see the Italians through to the semi-finals.
The Juventus centre-half was defensively sound, solid and commanding; limiting the likes of Gomez, Muller and Ozil to only half-hearted chances as Germany took the lead thanks to a fortunate deflection off Hector’s cross.
Despite eventually missing a crucial spot-kick in the penalty shootout, Bonucci can hold his head held high and be proud of another proud performance in Bordeaux, where losing to the 2014 World Cup champions is no shameful result.
Having formed a brilliant defensive trio alongside the ageing Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini at this summer’s finals, Bonucci’s leadership and presence in the Azzurri line-up will be forever imperative for years to come.
Germany will face the victor of Sunday night’s quarter-final between tournament hosts France and minnows Iceland in the second semi-final, which will be played at Marseille’s Stade Velodrome on Thursday (20:00pm).