By 90Min
May 31, 2018

On the face of it, a football match which stays goalless until the dying minutes of extra time sounds more like a monumental bore than a classic. Yet the semi-final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup between host nation Germany and eventual champions Italy was one of the most memorable clashes in recent footballing history.

The 65,000 spectators at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund were treated to an intriguing battle between an irresistible force and an immovable object. Perhaps surprisingly, for most of the match, Italy were the irresistible attacking force, while the Germans were the (almost) immovable defensive object. Marcello Lippi's side enjoyed 58 percent of possession - a stunning statistic against the tournament's host nation.

Yet, through admirable organisation and sheer doggedness - as well as an uncanny knack for winning penalty shootouts - Jürgen Klinsmann's side had defeated a technically superior Argentina side in the quarter-final. There were times when it looked as if they might even repeat that feat against Italy - even though they'd never defeated them in a competitive match.

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Right from the start, the Italians looked ominously slick and elegant in their 4-2-3-1 formation, with the inimitable Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield. Yet they created few clear chances in normal time. Francesco Totti played a sumptuous through ball to Simone Perrotta, whose touch let him down and gave Jens Lehmann the chance to save. Later, Per Mertesacker did well to block a goalbound strike from Luca Toni.

Despite the Italians' dominance, Germany actually created the best chance of the first half, which Bernd Schneider fired over the bar after being played into space behind Italy's defence. This was one of very few clear opportunities for the hosts, thanks largely to a towering display by Fabio Cannavaro, who marshalled his defence admirably. Nevertheless, goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon still had to be alert to thwart Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski in the second half.

Ironically, the otherwise impeccable Cannavaro was fortunate not to throw away all his side's good work after 81 minutes, when he appeared to foul Podolski in the penalty area. Instead of a spot kick, the referee awarded a free kick 20 yards from goal. The Germans failed to capitalise on the opportunity, and I Azzurri breathed again.

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Even though they'd been denied a late penalty, the hosts could consider themselves a little fortunate to take the match into extra time, having been outplayed for long periods. They were very lucky indeed in the opening minutes of extra time, when Italy struck the woodwork twice.

First, substitute Alberto Gilardino capped a buccaneering run down the right with a shot which rebounded off the inside of Lehmann's near post. Minutes later, Gianluca Zambrotta hit the bar with a superb rising strike from just inside the box.

The Italians had gone up at least two gears, and their superiority was finally beginning to tell. Perhaps they could sense that Germany were tired and vulnerable. Perhaps they just dreaded the prospect of a penalty shootout against the past masters of penalty shootouts, having lost on penalties in three of the previous four World Cups.

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Either way, the match was transformed from a tense and absorbing contest into a thriller. As the Italians pressed hard for a winner, opportunities also opened up for Germany. Buffon had to be at his agile best to thwart a fine effort from Podolski in the 112th minute.

Finally, in the 119th minute, Italy broke the Germans' fierce resistance with a goal worthy of winning any match in any tournament. Appropriately enough, it was created by Pirlo. After forcing Lehmann into a fine diving save, the midfield general soon found the ball at his feet again when the Germans could only half-clear the resulting corner.

Lesser mortals might have been tempted to take a shot at goal. Not Pirlo. He coolly controlled the ball and made a sideways run to the right, before finding full back Fabio Grosso in the penalty area with a delicious reverse pass. If Pirlo's assist was a thing of beauty, Grosso's finish was truly sublime - a low, curling first-time shot into the far corner which left Lehmann clutching at thin air.

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A minute later - after one last desperate German attack had broken down - the Italians sealed their place in the final with a beautiful counterattacking strike. Bearing down on goal, Gilardino unselfishly released Alessandro Del Piero, whose cultured finish was a fitting end to a wonderful encounter.


Glory for I Azzurri & New Hope for Die Mannschaft

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One of the oddest aspects of the 2006 World Cup was the German public's response to their semi-final exit. Die Mannschaft actually did worse on paper than in 2002, when they'd finished as runners-up. Yet Klinsmann's side were treated as heroes.

This was partly because Germany had had an exceptionally kind draw in 2002, but also because they simply played far more attractive and compelling football under Klinsmann in 2006 than in the previous tournament.

After the debacle of a group stage exit in the 2004 European Championship, German pride had been restored. In a sense, by defeating Argentina and pushing Italy to the limit, Klinsmann's charges had really overachieved, seeing as Michael Ballack was arguably their only established world-class player at that time.

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Whereas the 2006 World Cup proved to be the start of an outstanding era for the Germans, who will go into this summer's tournament as defending champions, it turned out to be a glorious aberration for the Italians, who defeated France on penalties in the final after dispatching the hosts. Having been poor in the 2002 tournament - albeit unfortunate to lose to South Korea in the round of 16 - they were eliminated in the group stages in 2010 and 2014, and didn't even qualify for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia.

Oh, and Germany have finally defeated Italy in a competitive match - they won on penalties in the 2016 European Championship quarter-final, having lost to the Italians yet again in the 2012 semi-final.

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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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