Germany 0 Italy 2 (aet): Grosso and Del Piero leave it late to break German hearts

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Perhaps it was the power of the moment, or a nod to history, but as Fabio Grosso peeled away in the ecstasy of a footballer whose goal has just won a place in a World Cup final, his head shook from side to side in a familiar display of joyous disbelief. This was Marco Tardelli's famous goal celebration of 1982 all over again and, just like that World Cup final, it broke the hearts of the German nation.

What an ending this proved to be, an awesome dispatching by Italy of the mighty host nation. Seconds after Grosso's goal, Alessandro Del Piero, the old conjuror of the Italian forward line, broke forward through a disintegrating German defence and put the hosts out of their misery with the second goal. It was the last kick of the game and, apart from a small knot of blue supporters, there was desolation all around.

For a mighty football nation who have reached seven World Cup finals, and seem to build winning teams out of notably ordinary resources, this was a harsh lesson to learn. Until last night, the German national team had never lost in Dortmund, a record stretching back 14 games to 1935. But Jurgen Klinsmann could not sustain the momentum that his country demanded, or their belief in a team that was made to look increasingly fragile by the Italians.

Could Sven Goran Eriksson's England ever have played with the cold, measured brilliance of Italy last night? They allowed the Germans to punch themselves out, the explosive Lukas Podolski expertly handled by Italy's outstanding captain Fabio Cannavaro. In midfield, Michael Ballack was never allowed to take a complete grip and then, as a shoot-out, and the Germans' daunting penalty technique loomed, they were run through the heart by the most important pass of Andrea Pirlo's distinguished career.

The Milan midfielder strokes the ball around with the best of them but he will struggle to play a better pass than the one that found Grosso unmarked in the area with 118 minutes of this game played. Surveying his options in the area, biding his time, Pirlo snapped a ball past the toes of German defenders and into Grosso who swept a curling left-foot shot inside Jens Lehmann's post.

Cue the head-shaking delirium of Grosso and the Westfalenstadion was reduced to silence - the country could not believe that four weeks of growing hysteria had been switched off in an instant. Such is life at the business end of a World Cup, and, when they re-examine the evidence this morning in this tough little Ruhr city, they will know they were well beaten.

Italy played in the best traditions of controlled, precise football and this was some achievement from a country living under the siege of a criminal investigation into their leading clubs. Whatever your feelings about the charges laid against Italian football, you have to admire the resolve of these players.

Seven of the 11 Italian players who started last night play for either Milan, Juventus, Fiorentina or Lazio, who could be relegated from Serie A by the end of next week. Of the Italian squad, 13 of the 23 players could be affected. They could have come to Germany and tossed it all away. Instead, Marcello Lippi and his players have turned the 2006 World Cup into something wonderful for Italian football.

Given the seriousness of the charges laid against the Italian game, it is unlikely that two months ago their prime minister Romano Prodi could have imagined himself standing in front of a group of Azzurri fans sharing their happiness. But that is exactly where Prodi found himself last night, on the pitch having watched the game with the German chancellor Angela Merkel. She will have to look elsewhere for her country's feel-good factor now.

This is Italy's sixth World Cup final, they have won three - the last one a 3-1 victory over Germany in 1982 in which Tardelli scored. Against Portugal or France they will like their chances of making it four.

The tension of this occasion was not matched by goalscoring chances, the raw energy of Germany put them in the ascendancy for periods but was never enough to overwhelm Italy.

Klinsmann dropped Bastian Schweinsteiger but it was in attack that Germany suffered most - Podolski is an energetic young prospect but does not possess enough finesse to lead the line at international level, although a move between him and Miroslav Klose presented Bernd Schneider with Germany's best chance of the first half, after Italy striker Luca Toni had proved unimaginative with an attempt to beat Lehmann.

In extra time, Albero Gilardino escaped Christoph Metzelder down the right, cut past Ballack and clipped a shot that beat Lehmann but struck the near post. A minute later, Pirlo's corner was cleared to Gianluca Zambrotta and he rapped a shot against the crossbar.

Podolski headed criminally wide when he was unmarked at the near post and then was brilliantly denied by Gianluigi Buffon. With that moment went Germany's last real chance. Lehmann stopped a Pirlo shot but he could do nothing against Grosso and Del Piero. Klinsmann's team had been clinically picked off by an Italy team too smart to leave their victims with time to reply.

Comments