History is not on Germany’s side as they prepare to take on Italy in the European Championship quarter-finals at Stade Matmut-Atlantique on Saturday night.
The Germans have never beaten the Azzurri at a major tournament before, but are still considered favourites to progress to the final four.
However, the perceived weakness of the Italian squad, which lacks the typical star quality expected from one of Europe’s traditional footballing powerhouses, is proving to be one of their biggest strengths as coach Antonio Conte has got his players playing as a team that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
The proof is in the results and no-one can claim that Italy don’t deserve to be where they are in the Euros once they look at the path taken so far.
Conte’s side were placed in Group E, which also included Sweden and one of the tournament favourites, Belgium, who they beat 1-0 and 2-0 respectively.
Then the Italians were paired with two-time defending champions Spain, despite finishing top of their group, and comfortably dispatched them 2-0, so it is fair to assume they will not be intimidated by Germany.
Conte has no illusions about the players he has available to him and it is this honest introspection that has allowed the current squad to be so successful.
“We cannot allow ourselves to simply be a group of players,” he said. “There’s no point in hiding the fact that it’s not the rosiest period for Italy in terms of footballing talent, and so we need to be a team. I have tried to wage a battle over the last two years to make people realize this.”
Germany counterpart Joachim Low claims they are not afraid of Italy despite their abysmal record against them in major competitions.
“I do not rate the past too much. They are now a different team. That’s all cold coffee. A fresh espresso is better and I hope it tastes better on Saturday,” he told journalists.
“We don’t fear them. We know what we can do and if we do it then we have a good chance to win it.”
Midfielder Thiago Motta is suspended for Italy after picking up his second booking of the tournament in the round of 16 against Spain, while Daniel De Rossi (hip) and Antonio Candreva (groin) face late fitness tests. Germany have a no injury or suspension concerns.