Ahead of tonight's semi-final between Germany and Italy, Dominic Fifield was online to answer questions on all things Euro 2012-related. Read a selection of them below
Dominic will be online from 1pm. But please post your questions below in the meantime. And read this little preview of Germany v Italy too.
The question rather ambled towards its inevitable conclusion, touching upon encounters staged from Dortmund to Madrid, Mexico City to Buenos Aires with each a reminder that, for once, the history is weighted against Germany. Joachim Löw listened intently to the interpretation on his head-set, then, as his inquisitor concluded by wondering if the national coach was worried Warsaw might soon be added to the list, delivered the curtest of responses: "Nein, nein."
So much for a mental block. The Germans have their own hoodoo to banish on Thursday night as they attempt to secure a first competitive victory over Italy at the eighth attempt. There have been finals and semi-finals of World Cups and European Championships lost in that sequence of four draws and three defeats, with the disappointment of late elimination from the last four at the Westfalenstadion in 2006, when Löw was Jürgen Klinsmann's assistant, still raw. Yet such is the unswerving belief within this set-up, even with a confrontation against canny opponents ahead, that these sorry statistics can be dismissed out of hand.
Instead, the Germans take to the National stadium on Thursday convinced they will buck that trend. The youngest squad at Euro 2012, with its gloriously fluid attacking style and jaw-dropping strength in depth, believes it will succeed where England succumbed against the Azzurri and force passage to Kiev for Sunday's final. Then they can dismiss any notion that they tend to choke. In the last decade this team has succumbed in two finals and three semi-finals, but they will be nearly men no longer. "Since 2005 the standard has been going up and up," said the captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger. "We don't have the 'crown' yet, but we're getting closer and closer.
Dominic is now online. So here we go: chedozie asks: "would you put Pirlo as No5 pen taker Dom?"
Not a chance. Cristiano Ronaldo must feel he wasted an opportunity to make a statement last night by being fifth, for all that Didier Drogba stole all the glory in the Champions League final from that low on the penalty pecking order. As much as I enjoyed Andy Carroll's booming header, or Danny Welbeck's cheeky winner, that Pirlo penalty against Joe Hart will remain my overriding memory of England's Euro 2012. He told Italian television later that night that he had hoped to demoralise the English penalty takers (and, presumably, Hart) by summoning something that extravagant. Safe to say it worked. The man's a genius, as Daniele de Rossi repeatedly stated last night at the pre-match press conference, and you'd get him high up the list of penalty takers, surely. Though quite what he'll do this time, if it comes to a shootout, remains to be seen. He can't do the chip again. Maybe a back-heel? Or just leather it into the top corner.
KURT asks: "Your prediction for the result of [tonight's] game please Dominic."
Am going for the Germans to progress. Hopefully in normal time (for purely selfish reasons as we have an early-ish flight to Kiev tomorrow morning). They've felt like the most progressive team at Euro 2012, and have such strength in depth in their squad. It's remarkable to note that Miroslav Klose, at 34, is six years older than the next senior out-field player in Joachim Loew's squad, which suggests they could dominate on this stage for some time to come.
jaktonat asks: "Did you enjoy last night's game?"
Hmmmm. An interesting and, I suspect, loaded question. It felt like a massive anticlimax, to be honest. There was plenty to admire from both teams, and it's hard not to enjoy watching the Spanish pinging it around in neat possession - there was a period deep in extra-time when three defenders and Casillas found a way of bypassing a couple of Portuguese attackers who were attempting to close them down, and sprung up-field almost effortlessly - but I'd have preferred a bit more goalmouth incident. I know there's been a debate raging about Spain being "boring", which still feels vaguely ridiculous given how good they are, but I have enjoyed the way the Germans have attacked teams. They're far more incisive with their play: tonight will be a test of just how good they are and, if they get through, they'll surely put up more of a fist of it than they did against the Spanish at the World Cup two years ago. That should be worth watching.
GoscinnyUderzo asks: "Hello Dominic. I am wondering how much of an influence Germany's extra two rest days might have this evening, especially in a contest where the teams seem to have some disparity in fitness anyway and the Italians played extra time whilst die Mannschaft rested players v Greece?"
Both managers were asked about this last night in the press conference, with the general consensus that fatigue should not prove too much of an issue. The Italians, who are a relatively old squad, seemed to get stronger as the game against England progressed (may have had something to do with the opposition, admittedly), as Joachim Loew pointed out:
"We saw that Italy, after 60 or 70 minutes, just got stronger and stronger and had more and more chances. In extra-time, Italy were dominant and England physically got weaker. I couldn't see anything with the Italians had any problems. They've had four days to recuperate. That's enough time to regenerate. It'll also be in their heads. They won the quarter-final, so that'll give them more energy. We'll need a high tempo in the second half to try and make them a bit tired."
Cesare Prandelli acknowledged the reality that everyone is claiming Germany "are younger, score more goals and are fitter than us", but stressed how "calm" and calculated the Italians' approach is. There will have been aching limbs on that flight back from Kiev to Krakow earlier in the week, but I suspect the adrenalin will see them through. The other issue with Germany having rested players against Greece, of course, is that their rhythm might have been disrupted. We will see if that has an effect at all.
EminEmma29 asks: "What are Italy's chances tonight? How good do you think they are (the looked superb against England, but I think England played their part on that)."
They did look excellent against England, if profligate. They would have been spared all that extra-time and the drama of penalties had they actually converted one of their 35 shots that night, or used their 64% possession to greater effect. They'll have to be more ruthless tonight, for certain, because the Germans will create chances and have shown already at the finals that they can plunder goals from all parts of their team. They also come into the fixture on the back of a record 15-match winning run in competitive games, which is quite a staggering statistic going back to the third place play-off in South Africa.
But the Italians have something about them. They're canny, streetwise and classy - particularly when Pirlo is given time on the ball - and they have that unpredictable bite up front with Mario Balotelli and, quite possibly tonight, Alessandro Diamanti (who might well come in for Antonio Cassano, apparently). They're capable of their own fluid attacking moves, and they will be confident the German back-line can be unsettled. Their remarkable record against Germany should also not be forgotten: the teams have met seven times in competitive games and Italy have never lost. It's not just the English who come into these tournaments with hoodoos to banish.
finsicle asks: "Apparently only one player from the Italian team is good enough to make England's XI – 'with the exception of Andrea Pirlo I wouldn't have swapped a single player for any of ours' – what would be your German/England XI?"
That's quite a claim, but Brighty's a Palace legend so he must be right.... A combined England/Germany XI. Well, what about:
Germany/England (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Lahm, Terry, Hummels, Cole; Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Mueller, Oezil, Reus; Klose.
I think Joe Hart might push Neuer close, and Terry's inclusion is on the basis that he had a fine Euro 2012 in terms of typical, stubborn commitment and some fine last-ditch tackles. Joleon Lescott, too, did well at the finals and has set himself a standard at this level. I'd also include Ashley Cole ahead of Jerome Boateng any day... But the rest is Germany dominated. I thought Danny Welbeck had a good tournament considering he came here wet behind the ear, and Walcott would be a useful substitute to throw on if the Germany/England XI were struggling against the Swedes (!?!), but there would be no justification, for example, to include a Wayne Rooney or Ashley Young in the team.
Carlb1501 asks: "Have you experienced this 'softening' toward the German national team from an English point of view. It seems that many English people I talk to actually want the Germans to get to the final as they feel that they can realisticly beat Spain. Or does this say something about the backlash toward the Spanish style of play which many marvelled at 2 tournaments ago but now find 'boring'."
It's hard not to admire the way they play. There's a real thrill to their style which contrasts neatly with their cliched reputation for rather functional, disciplined football. These days, they're fluid, attack-minded and wonderful to watch. That's brought about the softening, if there is one. It's clearly something they've had to work on for a while, as Joachim Loew pointed out yesterday:
"That is a process that has happened over a few years. You have to form a team who play well together, who are very good in the way they play together, and can work well in all their different various positions. We wanted to show other nations that we are at the same level as them in the way we play football, and we've been successful doing that. We are a team that doesn't have to react to our opponents. We play our own game, having formed our own way of playing, and a few years ago those were things we had to work on. At this moment, we're at a level on football where we don't need to hide from anyone.
"There are lots of people who are responsible (for the national team's success). They've done a lot of work at the clubs in terms of youth development. They're much better than 10 years ago, when it was all about conditioning and strength. Now the coaching is more about producing technical players. Our philosophy is embedded in the players: this is the type of football we want to play. We look for players who can fit into this culture and adapt. The players we have can play at this high level. It's a product here in Germany of many institutions: the DFB, the clubs and so on."
You have to admire the long-term planning that went into that, and the patience that everyone has shown along the way. But the reality is that, while the Germans have reached two major finals in the last decade and invariably made the last four in tournaments, they have not won anything since Euro 96. In England, that would hardly constitute a crisis. In Germany, it must feel disastrous. Bastian Schweinsteiger spoke of finally "claiming a crown" last night. It feels as if this is their time.
(Cue 3-0 Italy win tonight, with Germany mustering a pathetic four shots on target and only 36% of the possession...)
igotrafaelsentoff asks: "How much do you think will the victory for Italy six years ago be an issue? Do current Italy players draw mental strength from those late goals? Is Pirlo right in saying that Germany basically play the same way as then and Italy know how to deal with them, or is it just mind-games?"
Both teams were underplaying the significance of 2006 last night, though it was quite telling that Joachim Loew admitted he had been badly affected by the disappointment. He spoke about seeing the losses in Mexico City and Madrid on television, but he was in the dug-out as Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant back in 2006 and experienced the crushing sense of defeat first-hand. "If you ask me, personally, the worst defeat was 2006 because we were in our own country," he said. "It was a huge disappointment to lose to Italy, and the way we lost against them... the penalty shootout was coming, but they got a goal in the 119th minute, so that was a bitter pill. No doubt about it. We could have gone into the final, which would have been a dream. I was very disappointed for two or three days, yes."
Amazing to think you can put the disappointment behind you in "two or three days". I'd be crushed for months...
We'll see if Italy know how to do unsettle the Germans. I think Loew's current team is more of an attacking threat to the Italians than that side six years ago, and they have greater resources to be flung on to change a game if required. Italy have developed over the last few years too, of course, but I just feel the momentum is with the Germans at present. That is, if they can find the stadium. Their team coach drove past me twice this morning with all the playing staff on board - complete with police escort - as if bewildered. The sat nav had clearly gone to pot... and that doesn't bode particularly well.
MarcoLondon asks: "According to the Italian press, Italy will field the same 11 (except Chiellini for Balzaretti) . If you were the manager would you turnover or play the same team? Turnover means give an option to Nocerino and Diamanti that looked bright... and even Di Natale."
I'd play Di Natale ahead of Cassano if he's really weary, though Prandelli suggested he hoped to get an hour or so out of the Milan striker which would suggest he'll start and come off. I'm judging Diamanti purely on my memories of him as a West Ham player, which is probably unfair. He'd be good from set-plays (as his penalty against England proved) but might fade from the contest otherwise. He's also inexperienced at this level, so go with the cannier performer in Di Natale (40 caps, 11 goals).
I thought Nocerino looked busy against the English, mind you, and could have scored in the last minute of normal time. He has a few options, clearly. The key will be whether the collective would be disrupted by too many changes, I guess.
Dominic is just signing off. Thanks for all your questions.