Euro 2012 Betting: Does history repeat?
The game's key battle is Mesut Ozil against Andrea Pirlo.
As Germany prepare to meet Italy in their Euro 2012 semi-final, Michael Cox is salivating at the tactical options available to both coaches going into what could be a repeat of the fantastic 2006 World Cup semi-final.
Match odds: Germany (1.95), Italy (4.9), The Draw (3.45).
Major changes in formation have been extremely rare at this tournament. With the arguable exception of Poland's switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 midway through the group stage, a fairly minor and unsuccessful move, there's been only one coach that has significantly altered his shape.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli started with a 3-5-2 for the games against Spain and Croatia, but now moved back to the 4-4-2 diamond against Ireland and England. His ability to switch between formations is more interesting than impressive - Italy have reached the semi-finals, but have done so after three draws and a win against a side who were already eliminated. Prandelli is a fine coach and deserves great credit for turning Italy into a ball-playing side over the last two years, but he's arguably still trying to find the right combination of players.
For this match, he could go with either system. The return of Giorgio Chiellini is vital - he naturally plays on the left of a back three, and would play alongside Juventus teammates Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. Regardless of the system, Italy will be hoping right-back Ignazio Abate will be fit to start - he had to be substituted against England, and back-up Christian Maggio (more of a wing-back, as it happens) picked up a second booking of the tournament.
Left-back Federico Balzaretti will have to switch to the right - a position he briefly played when he was younger. Chiellini would play on the left of a back four, or Emanuele Giaccherini will be the wing-back if Prandelli uses a back three.
Plenty of decisions for Prandelli to make - and the same goes for Jogi Low. He surprised many by changing three of his front four for the victory over Greece - dropping Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski, and introducing Miroslav Klose, Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle. The other eight names won't change, but the final three positions are up for grabs.
On the left, Schurrle wasn't particularly impressive against Greece. He gave the ball away too frequently - on one occasion, this resulted in Greece breaking quickly and equalising, so Podolski will hope to get the nod. On the opposite side, Reus was more impressive and scored a fine goal, and should keep his place.
Upfront is the key decision. Miroslav Klose scored a fine header, and his clever movement and superior link-up play make him a better bet than Gomez, a great penalty box striker but one who might be outnumbered by three Italian centre-backs. Klose also has a great relationship with both Podolski and Mesut Ozil.
There are several question marks about strategy for this game. Italy's dilemma is the formation question outlined earlier, and although this will influence the shape of the side, Italy always look to play possession football under Prandelli.
On the other hand, Low is sure of his formation, but Germany have greater stylistic options. They are highly comfortable in possession, and Low insists that Germany "will play our own game with our own ideas, regardless of who our opponent is." However, they are also the competition's best counter-attacking side, and Low might choose to sit slightly deeper before suddenly pressing and launching mini-breaks.
The game's key battle is Mesut Ozil against Andrea Pirlo. The latter was Italy's star man against England, though benefited from an absurd amount of time on the ball. He expects a bigger test here - "I expect Ozil to be a great threat in and around the areas where I am playing, whereas Rooney stayed further up," he says.
Low agrees on the threat of Pirlo. "He's the one who directs the game, so we have to stop him and get in his radius," he says. Ozil doesn't tend to participate much in the defensive phase of play, though, rarely dropping onto opposition holding midfielders. It's more likely that he'll try to prevent easy passes from the Italian defence being played into Pirlo. He'll then look to drift into areas of space, to prompt counter-attacks. I can see Pirlo picking up a card when trying to stop him, and I'll back that outcome @ Betfair odds of (4.0)
Recommended Betfair Bet
Pirlo to be shown a card @ Betfair odds of (4.0)