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|Euro 2012 Special: Gomez & Klose v Balotelli & Cassano - Who will bang in the goals?|
SoccerAnchor is taking an in-depth look at the second semi final between Germany and Italy. Riley Beveridge assesses each sides forwardline and questions who will score the goals to send their side through to the final...
Tonight's second semi final in Warsaw is set to be a tight, tense affair between two of international football's powerhouses. Germany and Italy both have forwardline's that can win games off the own boot, so their role at the National Stadium will be critical. Germany have a front three which can be interchanged and alternated as many times as Joachim Loew likes, without disrupting the balance of his side. We saw this in the quarter finals where Mario Gomez, Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski were all dropped to the bench for Miroslav Klose, Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle. Meanwhile Italy may also tinker with their strike options. Mario Balotelli is their main option, yet is anything but reliable, while Antonio Cassano may have to battle with the experienced Antonio Di Natale or the youthful Sebastian Giovinco for his spot.
Germany remain an unpredictable threat. Who, exactly, will Loew choose to start? Klose and Reus made things difficult for him when they scored against Greece, while Schurrle's performance was solid on the left hand side. However Gomez remains joint-top scorer at this competition, and surely couldn't be denied another starting place. Meanwhile Muller and Podolski are established European forwards, yet may lose their place to 23-year-old Reus and 21-year-old Schurrle respectively.
For Italy, different questions are posed. Although Balotelli put in a good shift against England in the quarter final, is it ever without risk to pick him? Does Cesare Prandelli go for more reliable options in Cassano and Di Natale up front? You never know which Balotelli you might get. He could come out and work hard for the team, perhaps even get amongst the scorers, or he might go off like a ticking time bomb and get himself sent off. Balotelli is the wildcard, and is the key to this Italian forwardline working effectively.
THE MAIN MEN - MARIO GOMEZ v MARIO BALOTELLI
Mario Gomez, although left out of the side to face Greece, should be the main man up front for Germany tonight. His record at international level is fantastic, with 25 goals in 56 appearances. When he's at his best, he's lethal. We've seen glimpses of this throughout the group stages, when he scored a precise header against Portugal in their first game, before backing it up with a clinical double against the Netherlands the very next match. The problem with Gomez is that he can have his off days. He had numerous chances to win the Champions League final for Bayern Munich last season, however was wayward throughout the night. Germany can't afford that on a night where opportunities could be few and far between.
Yet with 40 goals in 50 games at club level last season, there's no doubting his consistency. He's come of age as a footballer in the last few seasons, and he could go on to take out the Golden Boot at this tournament. In fact, he's the only remaining player at this championship to be on three goals. With a strong, imposing frame, he can also add a physical element to Germany's attack. He can do it in the air and on ground level, and is the perfect package when he gets going.
Meanwhile the enigmatic marvel that is Mario Balotelli can be just as deadly at the other end, if he chooses to be. Italy's quarter final victory over England was just about the best game I've seen Balotelli play. He was disciplined, hard working and stuck to Prandelli's gameplan. There was no sulking or lashing out at referees. There was only a focus on football. Balotelli has made a number of headlines in his career, and it's easy to forget that he's still only 21. He's got just 12 international caps under his belt, and his best football is still ahead of him.
He scored 18 goals in 34 games for Manchester City last season, which isn't a bad strike rate considering his age and that 12 of those games came from the bench. He has the potential to light up a match, and hopefully for Italian fans, tonight is the night. But as stated earlier, you're never 100% sure which Balotelli will show up. Will it be the hard working one which came against England, or could we see the Balotelli who is 'allergic to Eastern-European grass' like we did at City a couple of seasons back. Like we always do with Balotelli, we'll just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.
THE RELIABLE OPTIONS - MIROSLAV KLOSE v ANTONIO CASSANO
Miroslav Klose's ability to find the back of the net at international level has been phenomonal. With a goal scoring record of 64 goals in 120 games for Germany, the 34-year-old remains as dangerous as ever when he gets on the park. He was handed his first start at this tournament by Joachim Loew against Greece, and took the opportunity by scoring a header to seal the match. It just seems like whenever he's on the pitch, he'll score. Germany normally play with one centre forward alongside three attacking midfielder's (usually Podolski, Muller and Ozil), which means Klose will have to battle with Gomez for his spot in the side.
Gomez has been the preferred option throughout this tournament, yet with Klose starting one game and finding the back of the net, it makes Loew's decision all the more difficult. Klose has shown throughout this season at Lazio that he can still score despite his age. His 16 goals in 35 games has seen him hold down a regular position in the side, while it also proves he knows how to find the back of the net against Italian opposition.
Meanwhile Antonio Cassano has started all four games of this tournament so far for the Italian's. He seems to be Prandelli's main choice alongside either Balotelli or Di Natale, so we can expect him to start tonight. Cassano also had a good game against England. He looked dangerous all night, and despite not finding the back of the net, he worked hard until the 78th minute when he was withdrawn.
Cassano's goal scoring record isn't great. He's got just 10 goals in 33 international appearances, which adds to his injury-plagued season at AC Milan, where he notched up just 4 goals in the 22 matches that he played. However with the talent of Andrea Pirlo playing you in behind defences, it won't be hard for Cassano to refind form at the right time.
THE ATTACKING OPTIONS
Who Germany select is still yet to be known. Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller have, for so long, been the preferred options up front. They boast a record of 54 goals in 131 international games between them, however it's a credit to the German depth that that doesn't guarantee their positions. Podolski's 18 goals and 7 assists in 29 league games for Cologne last season was good enough to get him a move to Premier League giants Arsenal, while Muller managed 10 goals and 10 assists from 50 appearances for Bayern Munich.
However it's the youngsters in Marco Reus and Andre Schurrle who are snapping at their heels for a spot in the first eleven. Reus has just 7 international caps, yet scored an emphatic goal against Greece in an effort to tie down his spot. A fantastic campaign at Borussia Monchengladbach strengthens his ambitions of sealing a start as well, with the right winger scoring 21 goals and setting up 10 more from 37 appearances last season. Meanwhile Schurrle's start to his German career has been sensational. He's scored 7 times for Germany in his first 16 matches.
For Italy, 20-year-old Sebastian Giovinco is vying for a first team spot alongside Alessandro Diamanti. Giovinco has been a regular off the bench throughout this tournament, while Diamanti came on late against England and played a fantastic cameo which drove the Italian's towards victory.
Giovinco has just 10 appearances to his name at international level, yet 15 goals and 11 assists in 36 games at Parma last season was enough to merit his inclusion into the national team squad for this tournament. Is it finally time he makes the transition to the big stage? Meanwhile Diamanti is leaving his international career late. At 29, the appearance against England was just his third Italian cap. Neither have scored at this level, and tonight's match would be the perfect chance for them to do so off the bench.
While Mario Balotelli is one of my favourite players at this tournament, I just can't go past the Germans. Each and every one of those players listed above has the ability to score multiple goals. It's just a shame they can't all play. Don't rule out the Italian's testing Manuel Neuer, but I still think Mario Gomez and co. should have enough about them to score tonight.