Germany unfazed, France have a ‘status to live up to’
TITLE contenders Germany will come face to face with their ultimate tournament nightmare when they take on Italy in their Euro 2016 quarter-final in Bordeaux today.
The world champions have lost every single tournament knockout game to the Italians going back almost half-a-century, but are confident they can end a streak that includes one World Cup final and two semi-finals and the Euro 2012 last four.
There are signs that it will be Germany’s turn to smile today, with the 2014 World Cup winners having yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
After topping Group C with two wins and a draw, they quickly disposed of Slovakia 3-0 in the round of 16 with an impressive performance in which their frontline burst into life after three below-par performances.
Forward Mario Gomez, initially left on the bench, has now struck once in each of their last two matches and looks set to spearhead their attack again.
“We know that everything will be demanded from us,” said team manager Oliver Bierhoff. “This is a new game, maybe the Italians are even stronger than in 2012 and we have been warned.
“But the game will start from zero for both teams and the past does not interest us.”
Coach Joachim Low will have a full squad to choose from, with Jonas Hector having recovered from the flu and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger fully fit after playing only a minor role so far following a long-term injury.
“I feel Bastian is ready now. He belongs to the players that Low can now count on 100 percent,” Bierhoff said.
Antonio Conte’s Italy lack the big names of the past, but were among four teams unbeaten in qualifying for the tournament and have kept their momentum going in France, conceding just one goal in their four matches.
Their so-called three-man BBC defence, led by Giorgio Chiellini playing alongside Juventus teammates Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci, has been key to their success.
“We have the Juve trio who guide us, they’ve not been winning for five years for nothing,” said fellow defender Mattia De Sciglio.
Conte will likely be without midfielder Daniele De Rossi, who picked up a thigh injury in Monday’s 2-0 win over holders Spain. Thiago Motta, his usual replacement, is missing through suspension.
That is unlikely to deter the Italians, according to De Sciglio. “Conte would be on the pitch with us if he could be,” he said. “He has taught us to fight for every inch. Fighting for every ball is our strength as we do not possess superstars.”
● France right-back Bacary Sagna said he could not imagine the host nation would suffer the same fate as England when they face surprise packages Iceland tomorrow for a place in the European Championship semi-finals.
“I’m not thinking about defeat,” Sagna told a news conference at France’s training camp outside Paris. “I’m not planning to go on holidays early. I want to go all the way.”
Sagna, who has played his club football in England for nearly a decade with Arsenal and now Manchester City, said he had been surprised by England’s shock 2-1 defeat by Iceland in the last 16.
“I thought England would win because they have a young team with plenty of talent,” he said. “On the other hand, I was quite happy for Iceland because they played really well. They taught England a lesson and deserve to be where they are.”
The 33- year- old, who has won praise for convincing displays in the tournament, said he was confident Les Bleus would survive tomorrow’s tricky test at the Stade de France.
“We certainly do not underestimate Iceland but we belong ( among) the best sides in Europe, we’re among the favourites and we’re at home,” he said.
“We have a status to live up to. When we see how the people in the fan zones celebrate when we score a goal, it warms our hearts. We just can’t let them down.”
French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet has set a place in the last four as the goal for the host nation, meaning tomorrow’s match will determine whether the tournament is a success or a failure for Les Blues.
“I don’t agree,” Sagna said. “To me, bowing out in the semi-finals would still be a failure. We all know what we’re here for.”
Sagna said that France, who started in sluggish fashion, often needing late rallies to prevail, must make sure they are focused from the kickoff against Iceland.
“We must not wait until halftime to wake up because that might be too late,” he said. “We must be fully concentrated from the start. I’m sure we will be. I’m not worried.” – Reuters
BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER: Ready now