Leon Wobschall: Italy are again set to break German hearts in Euro 2016 quarter-final

Italy's Mario Balotelli, right, and Riccardo Montolivo celebrate the first goal during the Euro 2012 semi-final match against Germany in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Italy's Mario Balotelli, right, and Riccardo Montolivo celebrate the first goal during the Euro 2012 semi-final match against Germany in Warsaw, Poland. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

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IT was the legend that was Bill Shankly who once said: “A lot of football success is in the mind.”

The astute words of Glenbuck’s finest may not have been specifically referring to the Italian national side’s psychological stranglehold over their German counterparts in the international footballing realm when he uttered them – but he might as well have been.

You sense that if Shankly was still around and holding court, then he would have taken brazen delight in the way in which the Azzurri have exposed deficiencies in the mindset of Die Mannschaft and entered the heads of every German player over a vast number of years.

From Breitner to Beckenbauer, Lahm to Littbarski.

All told, the decorated nations have met eight times in major tournaments; and not once have Germany come out on top.

The footballing superpowers meet again this evening in Bordeaux, with the Italian supporters banking on the port city on the Garonne becoming the latest entrant to a choice scrapbook which also contains a number of choice venues – Mexico City, Dortmund, Warsaw and, most famously of all, Madrid.

The four destinations witnessed Italy break German hearts and evoke some iconic footballing moments along the way.

Who can forget Marco Tardelli’s crazed celebration after scoring the Azzurri’s second goal in the 1982 World Cup final at the Santiago Bernabeu? The ‘Tardelli Cry’; an evocative moment when time stood still.

There were other moments. Mario Balotelli whipping off his shirt after his stunning second goal against the Germans in the Euro 2012 semi-final for starters.

What about Fabio Grosso’s pure unadulterated emotion after stroking home a delicious goal at the hosts’ Westfalenstadion fortress in the last four of the 2006 World Cup?

Then, for those with longer memories, there is Gianni Rivera’s cool winner in the ‘Game of the Century’ against Germany in the Aztec Stadium, barely a minute after Gerd Muller’s equaliser, the Italians winning 4-3 after extra-time to book a place in the World Cup final of 1970.

Expect a few of those golden moments to be aired on TV stations in both Italy and Germany and across the world ahead of kick-off today, with the World Cups of 70, 82 and 82 and Euro 12 weighing heavily upon Germans.

Tonight’s plum occasion sees two well-matched exponents in tournament savvy renew acquaintances, with the pre-match preliminaries having understandably focused upon Italy chipping away at the German footballing psyche like a woodpecker rhythmically tapping away at a tree full of sap.

Joachim Low, who previously spoke about the Italians’ innate ability as supreme illusionists in convincing the Germans that they cannot beat them in a competitive fixture and the Azzurri holding a mental block over them, offered a different slant on things this week.

His attempt to stress his side have no Italian complex was admirable, but convinced few ahead of what Germany perceive to be the ultimate tournament grind – playing the dreaded Italians.

Low said: “I am not a fan of digging things up from the past. We don’t have an ‘Italy complex’.

“This is cold coffee. I prefer a fresh espresso. We need to make sure it tastes good on Saturday.”

Motivation for Low comes in the shape of events at Warsaw at the semi-final stage of the competition two years ago when the mercurial Balotelli had one of his good days, netting twice in a 2-1 Azzurri triumph.

Memories of that are likely to be in the mindset of Die Mannschaft, with eight players who started that game likely to figure again this evening.

Germany may be fuelled by revenge for events in Warsaw two years ago and many more bad days besides, but payback is also in the equation for Italy, too.

Gianluga Buffon and key defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli were part of the Juventus side who endured a painful Champions League exit in Bavaria in mid-March against Bayern Munich, whose line-up included Thomas Muller, Manuel Neuer and Joshua Kimmich.

Also in early Spring – again at the Allianz Arena – the Italians were on the receiving end of a rare loss to Germany, the 4-1 friendly defeat representing their first setback against Die Mannschaft in 21 years.

But when it comes to tournaments, it is usually a different kettle of sea bass.

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