Two goals in the closing minutes of injury time sent Italy through to the World Cup final, after a thrilling encounter with Germany in Dortmund.
The win was fully deserved as Marcello Lippi’s team took the game to the hosts from the off, and only an inspired performance from Jens Lehmann kept Germany in the game.
The dream is over for Jurgen Klinsmann’s Germany team, but they can be proud of their efforts over the course of the last four weeks. Even in this enthralling semi-final encounter they gave their all and restored a lot of credibility to their battered reputation.
For Italy, a team whose campaign looked at one point like it might be overshadowed by the corruption scandal sweeping through their national game, this match was a reminder of certain core Italian values. Their defensive security in this tournament has been peerless, but in Dortmund they allied this to a ferocious work rate and not a little flair – a combination that ultimately proved too much for Germany.
Lippi’s side will now face the winners of the Portugal-France encounter in Sunday’s final, and on the evidence of a wonderfully vibrant display against the hosts, they will approach that match with great confidence.
Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann sprung a surprise before kick-off by dropping Bastian Schweinsteiger and bringing in Sebastian Kehl. Tim Borowski came in for Torsten Frings who was suspended
Italy welcomed Marco Materazzi for Andrea Barzagli after the Inter man’s one-match suspension following a red card against Australia.
The best opportunity in the early stages fell to Perrotta who was put through on goal by delightful pass from Totti. However, the midfielder’s first touch betrayed him allowing German keeper Lehmann to snuffle out the chance.
Totti was involved again shortly afterwards when he received a neatly-worked free-kick just inside the area, but his finishing let him down and his scuffed shot was blocked. Italy were on top and Luca Toni was the next to be denied after good work from Grosso.
At the other end Schneider should have done better when he was set up by Klose but with only Buffon to beat the winger blazed over. It was the best opportunity of the half and one of the few occasions that Germany had managed to stretch the watertight Italian defence.
It turning out to be an entertaining semi-final, and the referee was doing his best to let the game flow, frequently waving play on when players threw themselves to the ground. His approach did not endear him to the huge majority of the crowd, who felt that Italy were chief beneficiaries of his liberal style.
Shortly after the interval, Buffon showed why he is regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world, when he dived bravely at the feet of Klose to deny the striker at point blank range. Just after the hour mark, the Juventus stopper had to be alert to block Podolski’s effort and when the ball fell to Friedrich the full-back could only blast his effort over the bar.
As the game progressed and tiredness became a factor, the chances were hard to come by. There was no shortage of effort and although there were no goals in normal time it was not for a lack of adventure on the part of both teams.
Gilardino almost broke the deadlock in the first minute of extra-time when he broke down the right, cut inside Ballack, but his left foot shot hit the post and rolled agonisingly across the line. Moments later Zambrotta struck a firm shot against the bar as Italy looked to ensure that the game was settled without recourse to the lottery of penalties.
At the end of the first period of extra-time Podolski had a wonderful chance to put Germany ahead when eluded his marker to meet Odonkor’s cross, but his header flashed wide.
In a frantic finale, Lehman was again Germany’s saviour when he saved from del Piero from close range. The ball was swept to the other end where Podolski brought an acrobatic save from Buffon.
In the closing minutes del Piero’s shot flashed past the post from the edge of the area, as Italy pressed for a winner. It was end-to-end stuff and before long the ball was swept forward to Odonkor but he sliced his effort wide.
Pirlo was then denied by a fine save from Lehman and from the resulting corner the Milan midfielder threaded a clever pass through to Grosso who produced a wonderful curling effort to finally beat the valiant Leman.
The winner in stoppage time was the icing on the cake. With Germany pushing forward for an equaliser, Italy broke through Gilardino who fed del Piero on the overlap and the Juventus striker produced the sweetest of finishes to send Italy through to the final.
Germany: Lehmann, Friedrich, Metzelder, Mertesacker, Lahm, Borowski, Ballack, Kehl, Schneider, Klose, Podolski.
Subs used: Schweinsteiger 72 (for Schweinsteiger) Odonkor 83 (for Schneider), Neuville (for Klose)
Bookings: Borowski 40, Metzelder 56
Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso, Camoranesi, Perrotta, Gattuso, Pirlo, Totti, Toni.
Subs used: Gilardino 74 (for Toni), Iaquinta 91 (for Camoranesi), Del Piero 104 (for Perrotta)
Bookings: Camoranesi 90
Referee: Benito Archundia (Mexico).
Italy: Grosso 119, del Piero 120.