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Andrea Pirlo (L) and Daniele de Rossi of Italy's national soccer team warm up

PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS

Here in Warsaw the other day Joachim Loew, the German manager, declared, "We want to try to enforce our rhythm on Italy. It will be important to seize the initiative and try to force Italy to drop deep with our game. We want to act, not react."

Germany is full of confidence going into this Euro semi-final against Italy. And rightly so. Runners-up at the last Euro, third place finishers at the World Cup, Germany feels this team has reached it peak just in time to claim the European championship.

Italy, on the other hand, clings to history for hope.

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Germany does not beat Italy in competitive tournaments. It hasn't for decades. Repeat: Germany have never beaten Italy at the finals of a World Cup or European Championships.

That says a lot about the Italian game and Italy's formidable ability to rise to occasions. The English can make despairing jokes that the Germans always win, but not the Italians.

And yet if there's a time for the pattern to break, it's now. Italy was improved against England but far from unbeatable. Andrea Pirlo bestruode the game, controlling it, and he seems to have taken the tournament as an occasion, at age 33, to reassert himself. Germany can expect him to aim to continue pulling the strings in midfield with aplomb.

But it's only Pirlo that likely worries Germany. And, possibly goal-keeper Buffon, who is as cocky as all get-out. Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano were wasteful against England and only showed flashes of cutthroat scoring in the earlier games. Balotelli is gloriously talented and unreliable. Cassano is all fierce energy and able to take a half-chance and turn it into an on-target shot. But he tires after an hour.

Retired Italian player Paolo Rossi, who scored one of his most famous goals against Germany at the 1982 World Cup Final triumph, spoke to fans on the UEFA web site this week and declared today's semi-final a 50/50 game. It was notable that he too clung to the Azzurri's history against Germany: "Italy have played the best football in the tournament so far. Our midfield with Pirlo, De Rossi, Montolivo and Marchisio is one of the best in the world. It's going to be a hard game against Germany, but we know how to beat them and they don't like playing against us because we have always won from 1970 up to the present day."

Still, this Germany is different and presents a challenge Italy hasn't faced so far here – energy. The German plan is likely to ceaselessly swarm the Italian midfield, breaking up those movements that Pirlo can only orchestrate if he is unruffled. England failed to ruffle him, Germany has the arsenal to do it.

Germany has a physically strong team, but one not reliant entirely on height and size. It has momentum and pace. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the key, a man more likely to push forward against Italy, with Mesut Özil dropping deeper and attempting to cause panic in the Italian back four with diagonal balls unexpectedly sent forward.

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Germany will play high up the field, isolating Pirlo and very likely depriving him of space to orchestrate. Germany's sturdiness and speed will push back Italy into a defensive role it hasn't occupied all through this Euro.

At the close of Italy's victory over England, the stats were stark – Italy had 68 per cent of possession and Pirlo had made 131 passes.

Pirlo is Italy's hope. A few set-pieces with Pirlo bossing the situation and anything can happen. It's a hope but a slim one. History does not always repeat. Germany does not always win, but it must be favourites to send this good but not great Italian team home.

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