Football: Loew won’t be fooled by Italy

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BORDEAUX: Germany coach Joachim Loew said Friday he won’t be fooled: when it comes to Italy and major finals, he is taking nothing for granted ahead of their battle for a semi-final spot at Euro 2016.

Barely four months after humbling Italy 4-1 in a friendly in Munich, Germany go into Saturday’s quarter-final clash in Bordeaux as favorites to clinch a place in the last four and a match-up with France or Iceland.

Loew’s men virtually cruised to the World Cup trophy in Brazil two years ago and, considered by Italy coach Antonio Conte as “the most complete” national team he has ever seen, they are widely tipped to add the European title too.

The last side to achieve the feat was Spain, who claimed their second successive title from the European Championships in 2012, two years after winning the World Cup.

But Spain’s bid for a record third successive title ended with a 2-0 defeat to Italy in Paris on Sunday, and Loew — who saw Germany’s Euro 2012 bid stopped by Italy in the semi-finals — said he has seen the warning signs.

“We’re going into this game feeling confident, but it won’t be easy. Italy don’t just have defensive qualities, their offensive game is strong too,” Loew told media in Bordeaux on Friday. “We might have beat them in the friendly (in March) but I know the Italians. They recover well from friendly defeats and when it comes to big competitions they become really united.”

In a 10-year spell in charge of Germany, Loew has first-hand knowledge of the Azzurri at major finals.

He was assistant to Jurgen Klinsmann when Italy beat Germany in the semi-finals of their triumphant 2006 World Cup campaign.

Loew was then in charge when a pair of Mario Balotelli goals in the Euro 2012 semi-final put paid to Germany’s campaign, with Italy going on to lose 4-0 to Spain in the final.

History on Italy’s side

On paper, Germany should have real concerns: they have failed to beat Italy in eight previous encounters at major finals.

But Loew insists Germany, who secured their quarter-final place with a 3-0 humbling of Slovakia, are focused and relaxed.

“We spent a lot of time this week analysing Italy, watching their other games,” he said.

“They’re not just a side that focuses on defense. Of course they know how to defend, and we’ve prepared for that. “But they also have good attacking options. But I believe we are well prepared and I think we know what we’re up against tomorrow.”

Despite some shaky performances in the tournament so far, Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has kept a clean sheet. Indeed Neuer is on a record run of five games without conceding a goal, a first in the 108-year history of the German FA, which includes the 2-0 warm-up win over Hungary.

Germany midfielder Mezut Ozil believes Germany’s world-class “pedigree” will be enough to shake the Italian monkey off their back, and carry them through to the semis.

“We’re well aware of our qualities,” said Ozil. “The most important thing is to win tomorrow, achieve what the coach wants from us. In big tournaments it’s true we’ve failed when it comes to playing Italy. But we knew from the start we would come up against top opposition, and we’re convinced we can reach our goals.”

Italy are set to be without two key midfielders in Daniele De Rossi, who has a thigh injury, and Antonio Candreva, who is nursing a hamstring problem.

But Loew, again, is preparing for a late surprise.

“I’ve heard about De Rossi, but we don’t really know if he’ll play,” he added. “The Italians are quite flexible when it comes to their teams. They like to keep secrets, so there might always be a surprise tomorrow.” AFP

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