In Picture: Mesut Ozil (8) scored Germanyâ€™s only goal in regulation, but the team beat Italy on Jonas Hectorâ€™s ninth-round penalty kick.
Bordeaux (France), July 3, 2016:Â After 120 minutes of cautious, grindingly intense play followed by eight rounds of often farcical penalty kicks, a relatively unheralded defender for Germany, Jonas Hector, struck a fairly mediocre shot from 12 yards out that somehow slithered under Gianluigi Buffon, the star Italian goalkeeper, who essentially dived over the ball. Relieved, Hector jumped around with his teammates; gutted, Buffon collapsed on to his back.
It was that sort of night here at the Stade de Bordeaux, as Italy could never quite do enough and Germany, barely, continued its historical dominance in penalty shootouts, defeating the Italians by 6-5 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the quarterfinals of the European Championships. The Germans, who are the defending World Cup champions, will not quibble over their ugly victory; they beat Italy in a major tournament for the first time in nine games, and on Thursday in Marseille, they will play either France or Iceland for a place in the final.
Between now and then, however, one imagines that Germanyâ€™s coach, Joachim LÃ¶w, will have a simulated shootout or two, if only so his players can rid themselves of any lingering feelings from Saturdayâ€™s affair, which will surely go down as one of the worst shootouts between two top teams.
Six players missed in a wide variety of ways during the first five rounds, including Thomas MÃ¼llerâ€™s weak side-footed attempt for Germany, Graziano Pelleâ€™s yanked shot past the post for Italy, Mesut Ozilâ€™s bank off the upright for Germany and, most bizarrely, Simone Zazaâ€™s endless stutter-step run up that seemed to take hours before he blasted the ball miles over the net.
Germany had last missed a kick in a shootout in 1982 â€” five shootouts and 22 kicks ago â€” but, scruffy as this showing was, it was enough. Germanyâ€™s goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer, stopped Matteo Darmianâ€™s shot in the ninth round, setting up Hectorâ€™s squeaker, which sealed it. Ultimately, it was Germanyâ€™s younger players, like Hector and Joshua Kimmich, who succeeded in the shootout while veterans, such as MÃ¼ller and Ozil and the captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, failed.
â€œIt was a war for my nerves,â€ Neuer said. â€œAs a goalkeeper, itâ€™s something special.â€
Buffon, who made his first appearance for Italy in 1997, was understandably more morose.
â€œIt was shocking what went on,â€ he said. â€œManaging to lose on the final penalty, having seen them miss three out of five? I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s ever happened before. Itâ€™s inexplicable.â€
As they processed their regret, Italyâ€™s players tried to find positives, their happiness over making a tournament run that few expected tempered by the agony that comes with having let a chance for an upset slip away.
Antonio Conte, the Italian coach who will now step down and join Chelsea in the Premier League, had said his players would need to deliver something â€œextraordinaryâ€ against Germany. They very nearly did.
â€œThe sadness in the dressing room was huge,â€ Conte said. â€œWe really believed in this dream.â€
Much like Italyâ€™s round-of-16 match with Spain, this game had the feel of a final, if only because the teams have eight World Cup trophies and four Euros titles between them. Fans packed the city center early in the day, drinking the regionâ€™s famous wine in the squares and marveling at the stunning Aquitaine Bridge or the somber Girondins memorial before heading to the sparkling new stadium north of the city.
There, they mingled amiably, though Italyâ€™s fans, perhaps more than any other teamâ€™s, might have rued their draw in this tournament: Italy finished first in its group only to end up facing Spain and Germany in the first two knockout-round games while the second-place team in Group E, Belgium, played Hungary in the round of 16 and Wales in the quarterfinals.
Still, the Italians did not wallow. Instead, they came out fiercely against Spain, blowing away any longstanding notions about being a defense-only team with a measured, calculated attack to oust the Spaniards before tucking in more reservedly against Germany. Their 3-5-2 formation â€” with two outside midfielders dropping back constantly â€” largely kept the Germans from troubling Buffon.
With Germany playing a similar formation, there was little up-and-back to the match, few frenetic exchanges like the ones seen in Walesâ€™s victory over Belgium on Friday. This was more of an arm-wrestle, one side pushing â€” quite hard at times â€” but failing to topple the other.
â€œIt was a drama,â€ LÃ¶w said. â€œTwo sides on the highest tactical level.â€
LÃ¶w added: â€œIn the end, we were lucky.â€
He meant in the shootout, though two goals preceded that. The first came just after the hour when Mario GÃ³mez worked the ball down the left side and Hector delivered a sharp cross into the middle that deflected off a defender and fell for Ozil, who swept it past Buffon with style.
At the time, it felt as if that goal would be the difference. The Italians had controlled so little of the play and Germany continued to push â€” Buffon made a fantastic save just minute after the goal to keep it 1-0 â€” that it seemed as if only a slip-up by the Germans would keep them from a victory.
Except then came the mistake.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, JÃ©rÃ´me Boateng, the German defender, was marking Giorgio Chiellini after a corner kick, and as the ball came into the penalty area, he threw his arms in the air to show the referee, as demonstratively as possible, that he was not holding his opponent.
The referee believed him. But the referee also saw the ball bounce high and hit Boatengâ€™s raised hand. The whistle blew. The Italians shouted. Boateng dropped his arms and, simultaneously, his head. Leonardo Bonucci made the ensuing penalty kick. Italian fans shouted with glee. On they went.
The players slogged through 30 minutes of extra time, and then came the shootout. Italy could have taken control when Ozil missed, but Pelleâ€™s shot was wide. Germany could have won after Neuer stopped Bonucci, but Schweinsteiger looped his shot over.
Back and forth it went, three rounds of each team scoring before Neuer palmed away Darmianâ€™s attempt at the right corner. That left it for Hector, playing in his first Euros, to send Germany to the final four of its sixth consecutive major tournament.
â€œThere werenâ€™t too many players left to shoot, so sooner or later you have to do it,â€ Hector said. â€œI was just happy I was courageous enough.â€