Tonight is the second semi-final of Euro 2012 and features Italy against tournament favourites Germany.
As part of the build-up to the match we highlight the key battles expected to take place on the pitch and bring you all the stats and facts you need before the big game...
Mario Gomez v Christian Bonucci
Mario Gomez has scored three goals at the competition so far and has more than answered any critics he had coming into the tournament. His double against Holland demonstrated not only his predatory finishing but also his skill with the ball at his feet. Christian Bonucci comes into the game on the back of a good performance in his side’s clash with England in which he restricted Wayne Rooney to very little time and space on the ball and generally frustrated the frontman. The Italian will need to put in a similar performance against his German opponent tonight as Gomez, unlike Rooney, is fully fit and looking sharp and has the ability to strike if given any chance.
Bastian Schweinsteiger v Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo has been the driving force behind the Italian team during the tournament and a world class display against England was capped off by a superbly cool chipped penalty. The midfielder keeps his side ticking over with his composed passing and ensures the Italian side keep possession. He has the ability to play a killer ball as was also demonstrated against England by his perfect ball over the top to play in Mario Balotelli. Likewise, Bastian Schweinsteiger is Germany’s lynchpin in midfield both helping out in defence and getting forward to create in attack. The Bayern Munich man plays a more dynamic game than Pirlo and may try to use this to his advantage by closing down his opponent quickly and springing attacks at pace.
Mario Balotelli v Helder Badstuber
This is crucial battle to win for both sides. Against England Mario Balotelli was given a hatful of chances, but missed all of them; however he was getting into the right areas in the first place to create these chances. If he has his shooting boots on against the Germans the Manchester City front man could have a huge impact on the game. Balotelli always has the ability to make something out of nothing, and come up with the spectacular, which is why he needs to be watched carefully. Badstuber has looked fairly strong at the back so far, but the defence is perhaps one of the weaknesses of the German side. The central defender will have to deal with “Super Mario’s” physical presence and prevent him from putting in that match winning performance that he is capable of.
Claudio Marchisio v Sami Khedira
With Claudio Marchisio giving a man of the match performance against England and Sami Khedira being talked of as Germany’s player of the tournament this battle could be very influential in the semi-final tonight. Both players excel at retrieving the ball from the back, yet at the same time both can be extremely threatening in attack. Khedira’s defensive capabilities are superb, but after scoring a goal in Germany’s 4-2 win over Greece he is becoming a real all round talent. The two midfield maestros will be very busy trying to win the ball for their team and control the middle of the park, coming out on top may be essential for their team’s victory.
THE STORY SO FAR…
Germany finished top of Group B after overcoming all of their opposition. They started off their campaign with a 1-0 victory over Portugal before defeating their great rivals Holland 2-1 and ending their group games with a 1-0 win against Denmark. Their quarter-final match was a 4-2 victory over Greece.
Italy were runners up in Group C. Their opening game was a 1-1 draw with Spain. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with Croatia before they secured qualification from their group with a 2-0 win over Ireland. In the quarter final they met England in a game that went all the way to penalties before they won a place in the semi-finals.
STATS AND FACTS…
The top three players from each side according to the Official Euro 2012 Castrol player rating...
Italy: Marchisio 9.54; Buffon 8.90; Balotelli 8.61
Germany: Khedira 8.99; Schweinsteiger 8.96; Badstuber 8.69
Mario Balotelli has the most attempts on target for Italy with 12, whilst Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski are level for Germany with four apiece.
Batian Schweinsteiger has completed the most successful passes for Germany with 282 passes (fourth best in the tournament before last night's match) at 83 per cent pass completion. Andrea Pirlo has the most passes completed for Italy with 219 at a 74 per cent pass completion ratio.
Mario Gomez has scored three goals this tournament and is a hot contender for the Golden Boot award, whilst no Italian player has scored more than once.
Mezut Ozil has provided three assists for Germany, and Andrea Pirlo has provided two for Italy.
Germany have lost 14, drawn 9 and won 7 of their last 30 meetings with Italy.
The last game between the two was in the 2006 World Cup semi-final and Italy won 2-0
They last met in the European Championships in 1996 in the Group Stage. The game finished 0-0.
DID YOU KNOW…
Germany have never beaten Italy in a major tournament.
The last two times the countries have met in tournament knock-out stages were in the World Cup in 1982 and 2006. Both times Italy went on to lift the trophy.
Germany have won the European Championships three times: 1972, 1980 and 1996.
Italy have won it just once: 1968
Germany’s 4-2 quarter final win over Greece was the highest scoring game at the tournament so far while Italy’s game with England was the first in the competition without a goal.
Italy are unbeaten in their last five games with the Germans, winning three and drawing two.
Germany are the only side to have won all of their games at Euro 2012.