WARSAW // It seems like 2006 all over again.
As in the World Cup semi-finals six years ago, Germany are the favourites entering tomorrow night's European Championship semi-final match against a surprising Italy squad who are building momentum and maintaining focus despite a match-fixing scandal.
Both teams attack constantly, setting up a tantalising game.
"At this point, the squads that win are the ones that advance their defensive lines and that have the courage to attack," said Cesare Prandelli, the Italy coach. "Some of these guys are just starting to realise the extraordinary things they're capable of."
Adding to the lustre is that Italy-Germany matches have often produced the extraordinary, and that Italy have always come out on top at major tournaments.
The 4-3 Italy win in the 1970 semi-finals in Mexico City is still remembered as one of the greatest World Cup matches, and Italy's 2-0 win in extra time six years ago is also part of Azzurri lore.
Miroslav Klose, the veteran Germany forward, who recently concluded his first season with the Italy club Lazio, attributed his country's troubles in the series to tenseness ahead of big matches. "The Italians are more easygoing about things," he said.
In 2006, Italy were involved in a match-fixing scandal much like the betting problems affecting the squad today, and defeating hosts Germany in the cauldron that is the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund seemed like an impossible task.
"We've improved enormously since 2006," said Lukas Podolski, another veteran Germany striker. "We have a completely different philosophy and a different team. The Italians know this, too."
Like most modern squads, Germany now attack from numerous directions – through the 22-year-old winger Thomas Muller, who led the 2010 World Cup with five goals; Podolski, the playmaker Mesut Ozil or the centre forwards Mario Gomez and Klose.
Joachim Loew, the Germany coach, has used both Gomez and Klose as his lone striker, relying on Gomez in the group stage but the going with Klose in the quarter-final against Greece, when he changed his entire forward line, with Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle playing for Muller and Podolski on the flanks.
The Azzurri are coming off a draining shoot-out victory over England and have two fewer days than Germany to prepare for the semi-finals. Said Prandelli: "It's going to take a lot to beat them, but if we prepare for the match well there are no unbeatable squads."
Prandelli has also changed his lineup over the last couple matches, with Mario Balotelli and Antonio Di Natale alternating alongside Antonio Cassano in attack.
Di Natale came off the bench and scored Italy's first goal of the tournament against Spain and started the final group game against Ireland, while Balotelli played all 120 minutes against England.