Reuters Bordeaux, France
Jul 01, 2016, 05.41 AM
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 on Saturday.
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 on Saturday, 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 Loew 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 Loew can now count on 100 per cent", 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."