Germany lifts the Italy curse
PARIS (AP) The curse is lifted.
In eight matches at either the European Championships or World Cup dating back to 1962, Germany had never beaten Italy.
The ninth time broke the spell.
The Germans can now stop calling the Italians their ''Angstgegner'' - ''feared opponent.''
But Germany had to pull out its specialty party trick to do it: the penalty shoot-out.
After 120 minutes of normal and extra time ended 1-1 on Saturday, Jonas Hector hit the winning penalty kick that put Germany into the Euro 2016 semifinals.
Here are 5 things to know about the quarterfinal in Bordeaux.
This was a game for tactics geeks, not neutrals hoping for end-to-end action.
German coach Joachim Loew paid Italy a fine compliment by changing his formation for this match, choosing to fight fire with fire by playing three defenders at the back like his Italy counterpart Antonio Conte.
The German back three of Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Hoewedes left less space for the Italian attacking pair of Graziano Pelle and Eder to operate. Joshua Kimmich, on the right, and Hector, on the left, played as wing backs in Loew's formation, hugging the touchlines, pushing high up the pitch and pulling Italy out wide.
In front of the German back three, central midfielders Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos provided another screen for the Italians to penetrate. Their 135 caps for Germany were more than the combined total of the central midfielders and two wingbacks that Conte fielded in his 3-5-2 formation.
When Khedira suffered an apparent groin strain and had to be substituted after just 16 minutes, Loew was able to call upon a player with even more experience: Manchester United's Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was making his 119th appearance.
More than anything, the German formation seemed to mess with Italian minds. The enterprising Italy team that comprehensively outplayed 2012 champion Spain in the previous round thought twice about going forward. Instead of prowling down the wings as they had against Spain, Italy wingbacks Mattia De Sciglio and Alessandro Florenzi were far less intrepid and spent a lot more time reinforcing the defense.
GAME OF TWO HALVES
As the teams took a breather after a goalless first 45 minutes, the boffins at statistics outfit Opta tweeted that of the 18 goals scored in the two teams' previous encounters at major tournaments, 15 - or 83 percent - came after half-time.
Mezut Ozil's opening goal for Germany followed by Leonardo Bonucci's equalizer from the penalty spot stalemated the teams at 1-1, and that was how the score stayed to the end of extra time.
Settling for a shootout against Germany was a big mistake. Since losing its first penalty-kick contest to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European Championship final, Germany has now won six on the trot at the tournament and the World Cup.
Italy joins France, Mexico, England (twice) and Argentina as victims of German efficiency from the spot.
Out-of-favor Mario Gomez only got to witness Germany's 2014 World Cup win from afar, left out of Loew's squad that triumphed in Brazil.
Recalled by Loew in November after impressing for Besiktas in Turkey, the 30-year-old former Bayern Munich striker is now making the most of his renaissance.
Gomez was instrumental in Ozil's goal, holding up the ball on the left wing and then getting it to Hector. He laid it on for the on-rushing Arsenal midfielder to smash into Gianluigi Buffon's net.
BOATENG GOES BONKERS:
In Germany's European Championship opening win against Ukraine, Jerome Boateng used his long legs to pull off an incredible goalmouth block that just, by centimeters, kept out a shot that would have levelled the score at 1-1. The stunning reflexes and athleticism confirmed the Bayern Munich man's status as one of football's best defenders and made him the talk of social media.
He also made a fine block against Italy, just getting a right foot in to deflect a shot from Stefano Sturaro.
But, with Germany ahead and in control in the second half, he then inexplicably lost his head against Italy, needlessly giving away a penalty that put Conte's team back in the game.
Not lifting your arms in the box is basic A-B-C stuff for defenders. Yet that is exactly what Boateng did as the ball came into Germany's box, raising both arms.
Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai immediately pointed to the spot.
Twitter, of course, was merciless, quickly making Boateng the butt of jokes .
MISSING DE ROSSI
Daniele De Rossi was Italy's most prolific passer from midfield before this match, attempting 115 passes and completing 98 of them. Against Spain, he completed 36 passes in the 54 minutes he was on the pitch. Only defenders Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini completed more.
Against Germany, his absence because of a thigh injury was sorely felt. Without a ball distributor of his caliber, Italy looked disjointed. In the previous round, Italy bypassed the Spanish midfield entirely on numerous occasions but found that much harder to do against Germany.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester