Germany and Italy battled to a 0-0 stalemate to end Group C play, the result saw Germany advance as group winners, whereas Italy were eliminated. While the game may have lacked goals, it did not lack incident, as the Italians saw their Euro 96 campaign cut disappointingly short.
Germany lined up in their 5-3-2 formation with Thomas Strunz replacing the injured Stefan Reuter at right wing back, a switch that would end up playing a big part in the game. Midfielder Steffen Freund was drafted in as a center back to deputize for the injured Jurgen Kohler, and the suspended Markus Babbel. Jurgen Klinsmann and Fedi Bobic paired up front, with Oliver Beirhoff and Stefan Kuntz waiting on the bench.
For Italy, Paolo Maldini was switched to in a central defensive role within their 4-4-2, possibly to combat the strong German strikers. Diego Fuser was preferred on the right flank, with Pierluigi Casiraghi playing as a front two. Enrico Chiesa and Angelo Di Livio would have likely considered themselves unfortunate to miss out after playing well in their previous tournament appearances.
It was the Italians needing a result to stay alive, and that showed with them flying out of the gate and dominating the early stages of play. The first sight of goal came when Fuser had a 20 yard volley saved by a diving Andreas Kopke. The following corner was also punched away by Kopke, but he would face a bigger challenge a minute later.
Matthias Sammer, who had been so impressive on the ball all tournament, was caught dwelling on the ball and dispossessed by Casiraghi, who raced away and was dragged down by the German goalkeeper for a penalty. The pace and power of Casiraghi would go on to trouble the German defence all game.
Zola stepped up to take the penalty kick, but his weak effort was comfortably saved by Kopke. Germany would escape the incident unscathed, it was an interesting sign of the times, as bring down a striker clean in on goal would result in a virtually automatic red card in modern times..
The ball pressure from the Italian forwards was impressive throughout the game. Sammer and his teammates, so impressive playing out of the back for all this tournament to date, suddenly found themselves lacking options and dispossessed on numerous occasions.
One interesting tactical move by Germany in the first half was the role of central midfielder Andreas Moller. An attacking midfielder with 1 goal and 1 assist so far in the tournament, it was his movement into deep positions that played the biggest impact in the first half.
Facing a 4-4-2, the German wingbacks ran the risk of being isolated 1v2 against the Italian fullbacks and wide midfielders. Moller would drop deep into a fullback type position himself, looking to draw the Italian midfielder higher before playing the ball to a wingback who was now in more of a 1v1 situation against the wide defenders.
The pressure continued in the 18th minute as Roberto Donadoni played a raking back post cross, Fuser got on the end of it and volleyed a square cross, the ball rolled agonizingly across the goal, with nobody there to tap it home from one yard out. The ball rolled all the way back out to Donadoni, who crossed again only for the impressive Kopke to deflect it away.
Germany’s best chance of the half came 28 minutes in, when Moller played over a cross and Klinsmann headed just wide of Angelo Peruzzi’s goal, meaning the game went to halftime scoreless.
Despite not scoring, Italy had by far the greater threat in attack for the majority of the game, with one impressive being the hold up play of center forward Casiraghi. His ability to recycle possession with his back to goal allowed Zola to interplay well with him, and also gave times for some quality forward runs from midfield by the likes of Fuser and Donadoni.
The pattern of the game remained the same as the second half began, with the Azzurri mostly on the front foot. Fuser played Casiraghi through on goal in the 47th minute, but the forwards shot was saved by Kopke.
Still needing a win to ensure progression to the knockout rounds, Italy received a further boost in the 59th minute when Germany were reduced to 10 men. Wingback Strunz, already on a yellow card, clattered through the back of Donadoni and received a red card from Belgian referee Guy Goethals. The red card capped a largely unimpressive performance for Strunz, and left Germany with a lot of work to do in the final half hour to secure a result.
Following the red card, Germany dropped Bobic into a midfield role and defended in a 5-3-1 shape, Klinsmann playing as a lone forward and the wingbacks staying back defensively more often than was typically the case all tournament so far.
In the 66th minute, Roberto Di Matteo found Zola, who’s through ball forced Casiraghi wide, allowing German defender Christian Ziege to recover and concede the corner.
In the 67th minute, Arrigo Sacchi switched to more attacking system, replacing central midfielder Roberto Di Matteo with forward Chiesa. Zola played behind a front pair of Casiragi and Chiesa as the Italians pushed forward, knowing a victory would see them progress to the quarter finals as group winners.
The 10 man German resistance held up strongly in the closing stages, but the deployment of Klinsmann as a lone forward meant they were largely unthreatening on the counter and going forward.
Sacchi rolled the dice with his final substitution as Moreno Torricelli replaced Amedeo Carboni as left back. Torricelli pushed high up the field in desperation along with his teammates, but Italy failed to create significant chances as the game closed out. A late corner resulted in a shot blocked by Klinsmann, but an offside flag ended any Italian threat.
As the final whistle blew, the Italians looked immediately to their bench to see if they had progressed, only to find that Czech Republic had gained a point against Russia, sending the Czechs into the last eight by virtue of the head to head tiebreaker.
POST GAME FALLOUT
Germany would proceed to the knockout rounds as group C winners without losing a game or conceding a goal. However, Berto Vogts would have some concerns going into quarter final play. Markus Babbel would return from suspension, but Germany would be hoping for the return from injury of defensive duo Kohler and Reuter.
The German attack was relatively blunt in this game, even prior to the red card so either Kuntz or Bierhoff would be in consideration for a return to the starting lineup.
Italy would see their tournament end in heartbreaking fashion, having produced times of real quality in their three games, and be left wondering about a couple of key moments that haunted their campaign. Had Casiraghi equalized with his last minute chance against the Czech Republic, had Zola scored his penalty in this game, qualification for the next round would likely have come.
It was the belief of many that this Italy squad was far too talented to be knocked out in the group stages, and that fact saw Sacchi lose his job in the months after the tournament, being replaced by Cesare Maldini.
MAN OF THE MATCH
GK Andreas Kopke (Germany) – The German goalkeeper kept his third clean sheet in as many games, and would be by far the busiest of the three games in this fixture. A penalty save capped a fine performance that led Germany to qualification as Group C winners.
3: GK Andreas Kopke – Man of the Match.
2: CM Andreas Moller – Moller produced yet another hard working performance, and was a key figure in possession as Germany looked to break down a quality Italian team on the offensive end.
1: CM Dieter Eilts – The tough tackling midfielder covered a lot of ground, breaking up attacks and tracking runners. Was an important figure as Germany held strong in the last 30 minutes with 10 men, conceding no goals, and few shots.
3: CF Pierluigi Casiraghi – The powerful striker was a thorn in the side of the Germans for the entire game. Pressing and harrying on the defensive end, running in behind, and winning what could have been the decisive penalty during the first half.
2: RM Diego Fuser – High energy right winger who joined the attack with great effect on multiple occasions throughout the game. Forced a good save from Kopke, and produced several dangerous crosses.
1: CD Paolo Maldini – Converted to a central defensive role for this game, Maldini impressively shackled star forward Klinsmann throughout the 90 minutes to help Italy get the clean sheet.