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Italy-Germany Preview

By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO

STATS Writer

(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - For Germany, a victory could ease the pain of past disappointments and move them a step closer to fulfilling their perceived destiny.

Italy surely wouldn't mind prolonging the Germans' agony with another upset.

Deemed heavy favourites to reach the final of the 2012 European Championship, Germany will need to get by upset-minded Italy in a major tournament for the first time Thursday night in Warsaw.

It may look rather familiar for Germany, facing the Italians at the precipice of a final.

Italy stunned hosts Germany 2-0 in extra time of the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup before advancing to become the first European nation to win a fourth world title.

That scenario isn't new to the Germans, who lost the 1982 World Cup final to an unheralded Italy squad after losing 4-3 in extra time in the semifinals of the 1970 tournament.

In fact, Germany are still seeking their first victory over Italy in an official competition, going 0-3-3.

They enter this meeting expecting to end that win drought, but the same was said in 2006 on home soil.

"That was six years ago, we've had time to digest it," said forward Miroslav Klose, one of five holdovers from that World Cup squad. "We both have some players remaining but we are both different sides now."

Germany boasts an array of offensive-minded talent, including playmaker Mesut Oezil and forwards Lukas Podolski, Mario Gomez and Klose with Marco Reus potentially pushing into the lineup.

Gomez leads the team with three goals.

The embarrassment of riches has afforded coach Joachim Loew the luxury to mix and match the forwards depending on the opponent, and Germany has had little trouble. They won all three games in the "Group of Death" before brushing aside Greece 4-2 in Friday's quarterfinal.

Changes seem to be in store again.

"Italy is a completely different calibre than Greece," Loew said. "We may make one or two changes."

Midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger doesn't seem to be one of those changes, despite struggling with a lingering right ankle injury stemming from a torn ligament in February that didn't heal properly. The injury may have led to several poor passes against Greece, as he's played every minute of every match so far.

"He is the team's emotional leader, he thinks a lot and asks a lot of questions, he has matured enormously over the past two years," Loew said. "He's very important for our team. We need him on the field."

Italy are also dealing with injuries, and some possible fatigue issues since they've been given two fewer days of rest compared to Germany. The Azzurri didn't help themselves Sunday, needing to go to penalties to oust England 4-2 in the quarterfinals after a scoreless draw through extra time.

Now, they're hoping midfielder Daniele De Rossi (left foot) and defenders Giorgio Chiellini (left hamstring) and Ignazio Abate (left leg) will be ready Thursday.

Abate's injury had been made even more troublesome since fellow right back Christian Maggio is suspended after being issued a yellow card against England.

Chiellini's return could provide a lift since he'll likely find himself matched up with one of Germany's sizable forwards - Gomez or Klose.

Despite Italy's defensive acumen and history, coach Cesare Prandelli isn't expected to change his offensive philosophies.

"At this point, the squads that win are the ones that advance their defensive lines and that have the courage to attack," Prandelli said. "Some of these guys are just starting to realize the extraordinary things they're capable of."

Andrea Pirlo, 33, certainly knows what he's capable of and it was on display in stunning fashion against England, as he controlled the midfield while setting up his teammates for scoring chances before scoring in the shootout on a daring chip.

With Pirlo dictating the play, Italy had a 35-9 shooting advantage on England.

"I'm nearly at the end of my career. I might not experience the emotions of matches like this anymore, so I want to fully enjoy it," said Pirlo, who along with goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defender Andrea Barzagli and De Rossi are the only remaining members of the 2006 world championship side.

The biggest issue for Prandelli may be who will start at forward, as Antonio Cassano has been paired with Mario Balotelli and Antonio Di Natale throughout the tournament. Balotelli played all 120 minutes against England before scoring the opening penalty while Di Natale was left on the bench since substitutions were needed for the injured De Rossi and Abate.

Cassano was subbed off for Alessandro Diamanti in the quarterfinal.

"Italy is strong in all areas, just like they are," Pirlo said. "It's going to be a great semifinal. We've got to try and take possession of the ball, even though that's one of their characteristics too."

The winner will face Spain in the final at Kiev on Sunday night.

Updated June 27, 2012

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