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Euro 2016: battle between Italy and Germany

In a match which could have graced the final of Euro 2016, Joachim Loew’s world champions Germany take on Antonio Conte’s Italy in a quarter-final clash of giants on Saturday. The prize on offer in Bordeaux is a semi-final against host nation France or surprise package Iceland, who meet on Sunday. Germany line up with Bayern Munich stars like Thomas Mueller and defender Jerome Boateng, who is rapidly establishing himself as one of the team’s new leaders.
Italy, on the other hand, have proved they can shine in France with a tight unit melded by Chelsea-bound coach Antonio Conte and built on a solid defence featuring Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini in front of their one global star, 38-year-old stopper Gianluigi Buffon.

“The winner of this game could be considered a favourite to win the title,” Loew said.

Two years after limping out of a second successive World Cup before the knockout stage, the Azzurri are still in contention to win their first European title for 48 years. Germany meanwhile have struggled to hit the heights in the two years since they enjoyed World Cup glory in Brazil in 2014 but have not had to hit top gear yet in this tournament.

Both teams have talked up the respect factor and downplayed the significance of Italy’s eight-game unbeaten run against Germany at major tournaments. In the most recent matches, Italy claimed a 2-1 win in the Euro 2012 semi-finals while Germany romped to a 4-1 win in a meaningless friendly in March.

Conte says Germany are “the most complete” squad of players he has ever seen.

Loew though said his players had analysed far more than just the watertight Italian defence, which reigning champions Spain could not breach as their bid to retain their title was crushed by the Italians in a 2-0 defeat.

“Italy don’t just have defensive qualities, their offensive game is strong too,” Loew said.

Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil said: “In big tournaments it’s true we’ve failed when it comes to playing Italy.

“But we knew from the start we would come up against top opposition, and we’re convinced we can reach our goals.”

Ozil has to supply the ammunition to a back-in-form Mario Gomez and Mueller, who despite his fine goalscoring record in World Cups has yet to find the net in a European Championships.

Euro 2016 threw up another surprise on Friday when Wales reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for the first time.

– Wales in dreamland –
The Welsh made an impressive fightback to defeat much-fancied Belgium 3-1 in the quarter-final in Lille.

To underline their achievement, this is Wales’ first ever participation in a European Championship finals.

Radja Nainggolan gave Belgium the lead but Ashley Williams equalised before a stunning strike from Hal Robson-Kanu, whose last contract with his second-tier English club ended on Thursday.

A late header by substitute Sam Vokes put the finishing touches to a historic Wales victory.

Coach Chris Coleman said it showed that the smaller nations must not give up on their dreams.

“Everybody fails, I’ve had more failures than success, but I’m not afraid to fail and every now and again, this happens. It’s sweet and I’m enjoying it,” he said.

“I’d imagine there are three million people back home going absolutely crazy and they deserve that,” said Coleman after Wales became the first British nation to reach the last four at a major tournament since England on home soil at Euro 96.

Wales move on to a semi-final clash with Portugal on Wednesday which sets up a mouthwatering duel between Gareth Bale and his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.

Portugal beat Poland in a penalty shootout in the first quarter-final on Thursday.

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