Germany versus Italy. A heavyweight battle in the summer of 2006 and a World Cup semi-final like no other. Held in one of the world’s most iconic stadiums, Dortmund’s colossal Westfalenstadion, the match saw some of the best players on the planet. Italy’s old guard faced off against the fresh-faced Germans. Above all, this game was filled with drama. Late drama. World record-breaking drama, even. This match was one of the most gruelling heavyweight fights since George Foreman fought Muhammad Ali in The Rumble in the Jungle. This fight had not one, but two knockout punches.
Germany had outdone themselves, both as tournament hosts as well as entertainers on the field. After losing in the 2002 World Cup final, falling to a punishing performance by Ronaldo, the nation had reinvented itself in what is colloquially known as Das Reboot. There were some seasoned pros in the German squad: Oliver Kahn, Oliver Neuville and Torsten Frings, yet overall it was a youthful squad being managed by the guidance of former Spurs forward Jürgen Klinsmann.
They kicked off the tournament with a powerful performance against a tenacious if technically flawed Costa Rican side. The opening goal, a right-footed thunderbolt by Philip Lahm, was an eye-opener. It was a goal worthy of opening any tournament and was indicative of the Germans play during that tournament – exciting, fast and calculated.
The Germans won their opening three group games, 4-2 against Costa Rica, 1-0 against Poland and 3-0 against Ecuador. A comfortable 2-0 win over Sweden and a penalty shootout win over one of the pre-tournament favourites Argentina booked Die Mannschaft a place in the semi-final against Italy.
Italy brought a number of young and hungry players to Germany in the summer of 2006, but the onus was very much on their experienced heads to guide the Azzurri through the tournament. Marcello Lippi, a well-respected authority in Italian football and tactical mastermind, was the man charged with coaching Italy at this World Cup. They were expected to do well, but few could have envisaged the journey that he would take his players on, especially with the Calciopoli scandal hanging over the county.
Italy kicked their tournament off with a comfortable 2-0 win over World Cup debutants Ghana. Their next game was a more disappointing 1-1 draw over the USA in which young Roma midfielder Daniele De Rossi was sent off for a shocking elbow on Brian McBride. De Rossi was banned for four games, meaning that he could only play again in the World Cup if Italy reached the final. They sealed qualification into the last 16 with a 2-0 win over the Czech Republic, thus setting up a tie against Australia. They scraped past the Socceroos with a late, highly controversial penalty, before cruising to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Ukraine.
Both Italy and Germany were in punishing form in the summer of 2006 and this semi-final matchup was a true clash of the titans. This game may not have been a goal fest, but that didn’t stop it being an end-to-end thriller.
Germany got forward frequently, yet it was the Italians who were creating the more dangerous opportunities of the evening. Andrea Pirlo whipped in a free kick from the wide right. Christoph Metzelder and Luca Toni contested the ball, both players failing to make contact. Marco Materazzi got his head to the ball, though could only head the ball on to the floor, watching it bounce up and over the bar.
Germany’s first real chance of the game stemmed from a rare Andrea Pirlo mistake. His miss-pass allowed Miroslav Klose to gain possession of the ball. Klose passed to Lukas Podolski, who returned the ball to Klose again. Klose drove at the Italian defence, drawing in Marco Materazzi, before teeing the ball up to Bernd Schneider. Schneider’s shot rose over the bar. Gianluigi Buffon may not have been tested, yet it was a stark reminder to Lippi’s men that the opposition should not be underestimated.
The Germans began the second half with more directness and felt aggrieved not to have won a penalty. Miroslav Klose ambled into the Italian penalty area, having carried the ball from deep into the half. Klose ignored both options, instead darting into the penalty box. He was brought down by Buffon and Gennaro Gattuso. There were wild claims for a penalty, however, these claims fell on deaf ears with Mexican referee Benito Archundia having none of it.
Germany continued to push players forward, much to the appreciation of the 65000 thousand fans packed inside the Westfalenstadion. Tim Borowski fired over the bar with a speculative shot from distance. It was a speculative effort, given that Italy had only conceded once in the World Cup so far – an own goal from Cristian Zaccardo.
Lukas Podolski was the next player to try his luck. The ageing Bernd Schneider lifted his pass into the box. Podolski turned Materazzi with ease, pirouetting into space and unleashing a stinging shot at Buffon. The FC Koln forward could only watch in frustration as his effort stung the gloves of the goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon could only push the ball back into the box. Defender Arne Friedrich was the first player to reach the ricochet, though much to the dismay of the Italians in the stadium, his shot sailed over the bar.
The last noteworthy attempt of the 90 minutes fell to Simone Perrotta. Andrea Pirlo lofted a pass to Alberto Gilardino who headed it down to Francesco Totti. The evergreen Totti chipped the ball over the defence and into the path of Perrotta. Jens Lehmann threw himself bravely in front of the football, punching it away from the danger and clotheslining the Perrotta in the process.
The referee blew for full time with the score sitting at 0-0. Extra time was a daunting prospect to the teams. They had both played five matches already in the World Cup, Germany having already played an extra 30 minutes against Argentina in the previous match.
It was the Azzurri who generated the first real chance of extra time. Alberto Gilardino steamed past Christoph Metzelder towards the goal line before cutting inside the box with his sights set on scoring. The flamboyant Milan forward made Michael Ballack look like a schoolboy trying in defence, easing past him before taking the shot on. The shot beat Lehmann, but the German fans breathed a sigh of relief as the ball bounced off the post.
Into the second period of extra time and again it was Italy who were creating the chances, their first coming almost straight from kick off. Andrea Pirlo had been pulling the strings for Italy all tournament and turned creator once again. He scooped a pass towards the penalty area from distance. A deflection caught the defence out and Alessandro Del Piero latched on to the pass. The ball didn’t fall right for Del Piero to get his shot away, allowing Arne Friedrich to put his body between the ball and the goal, Lehmann rushing out to quash the danger.
Germany responded by creating their own opportunity. Sebastian Kehl picked up the ball in acres of space, spraying a Pirlo-esque pass to Podolski on the edge of the box. Podolski rattled his shot away, forcing Buffon to make a diving save, tipping the ball over the bar.
With the clock ticking down and penalties looming, Andrea Pirlo forced Jens Lehmann into a save. The Arsenal goalkeeper pushed the ball wide for a corner. This save was crucial, however, the resulting set-piece proved to be the beginning of the end of Jurgen Klinsmann’s young side.
Alessandro Del Piero stood over the corner, whipping the ball into the packed penalty box. Germany cleared the ball, unfortunately for them, not far enough from danger…
Pirlo recovered the ball up, took a touch and with the sort of calmness indicative of his career, picked out the perfect pass. He confidently found Fabio Grosso. The all-action left back pivoted and swept his shot into the goal, usurping the outstretched hands of Lehmann.
After 119 minutes of thrilling end-to-end football, Italy had broken the deadlock. It was the latest goal to ever be scored in a World Cup match. Not just had Grosso put his side into the final, but he had created a little bit of history in the process.
Klinsmann, naturally, instructed his team to push forward in numbers, throwing caution to their defensive duties in an attempt to score a late equaliser. Eventual Young Player of the Tournament Lukas Podolski took a heavy touch in the opposition half. Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero capitalised on this poor control, dispossessing the Polish-born German striker to set up a punishing counterattack.
Del Piero offloaded the ball to a teammate and continued his run upfield. Alberto Gilardino received the pass, running at the defence and into the box, creating space for his teammate. Gilardino dragged Christoph Metzelder into the centre, then reversed his pass left. Del Piero latched on to the pass, effortlessly swivelling his body, easing the ball beyond Lehmann and doubling Italy’s lead.
For all of two minutes, Italy left back Fabio Grosso had held the record for the latest ever World Cup goal. On 121 minutes Alessandro Del Piero had smashed that record! In 2014, Algerian midfielder Abdelmoumene Djabou equalled this record, scoring in the 121st minute against Germany, though it has never technically been beaten.
Full time came and the hosts were eliminated. To lose with practically the last kick of the game must have been devastating. The game should be remembered as something of a modern-day classic – two titans of football playing knockout football the way it should be: hard, fast and action-packed.
This game was a pure football spectacle. It was end to end. It was heart and soul. It was passion. It was a masterclass. Either side could have won that match with few complaints from the neutrals. When you think World Cup classic this game may not spring to mind straight away, but thanks to the late record-breaking late goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero, this game will forever be written into the annals of history.