Germany vs Italy – Three key head-to-heads

Germany and Italy face off in Warsaw on Thursday for the chance to reach the final of Euro 2012. Joachim Loew’s side are the pre-tournament favourites, looking impressive as they cruised through the competition, qualifying with ease from the supposed ‘Group of Death’. The Italians have found the going a little tougher though, and it took a penalty shootout for Cesare Prandelli’s men to see off England. The semi final is bound to be a tense encounter and Italy will have to be at their very best to match the Germans all over the field. Here are three personal clashes to watch out for:

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs. Andrea Pirlo

What do these two men have in common? Ah yes, they both masterminded and instigated England’s defeat in the last two major tournaments. Two years ago in South Africa, Schweinsteiger was at the heart of every German attack, sending waves of white shirts forward as they demolished the Three Lions. Pirlo did pretty much the same on Sunday night, rolling back the years with a peerless performance, before casually chipping home a spot kick in the shootout to help his side reach the next round. Both sides rely on their central midfielders to build momentum and both have done it superbly so far this tournament. Schweinsteiger has kept Germany ticking over, starting German attacks before getting involved further down the field. Pirlo, as well as the performance against England, has also been brilliant, holding his own against the Spanish maestros, before curling in a lovely free kick against the Croatians. Whichever playmaker gets the upper hand in this game could well be the key to victory.

Mats Hummels vs. Mario Balotelli

Unbelievably, the Italian striker managed to keep his cool against England, though he didn’t have his greatest game of all time. Super Mario would have expected to finish a few of the chances presented to him, but he failed to take any of the opportunities that came his way. With Hummels at the heart of the German defence, Balotelli will find openings hard to come by, as the Borussia Dortmund centre back has shown why he is gaining a reputation as one of the best in the world in that position. If Hummels has any weakness though, it could be a lack of pace and with Italy looking to counter attack, Balotelli could expose that flaw with his runs from deep. You never know what you’re going to get from the maverick, be it a dreadful miss like the one against Spain, or a fantastic volley like the one against the Irish. Either way, Hummels will need to keep Balotelli frustrated all night to see if he can handle the biggest game of his short career so far.

Manuel Neuer vs. Gianluigi Buffon

The best goalkeeper in the world comes up against the previous occupier of this title. However, Buffon still holds the record for most expensive shot stopper, while Neuer is the runner-up in that respect. Both men will be crucial to their sides’ chances of making the final. Indeed goal scoring opportunities will be few and far between given the quality of defence on show, meaning both Buffon and Neuer will have to be alert at all times. The German number one has had a quiet tournament so far, he’s never really been called into action too often, though the Greeks scored twice against him in the last round. Buffon however, had to keep out Spain in the opening game, before denying England from the spot by saving from Ashley Cole. He’s also the skipper of the Azzurri, meaning he has to lead by example and expect to see the man between the sticks barking out orders, urging his side on. The game is too tight to call, so there’s always the possibility of a penalty shootout and given Neuer’s previous in the Champions League final, he could well be attempting to beat Buffon from twelve yards.

For your chance to have your say on these key clashes and the other memorable happenings during the game, join Football FanCast for a LIVE interactive service via Twitter using the hashtag #Euro2012 or click on the banner below…