Italy enters the Euro 2012 semifinal with only one win from four games, but they also enter the match having not suffered a loss in the tournament. When faced with a tough Spain side in the first game of the tournament, they matched them in a 1-1 draw, proving that they can hang with anyone.
They might be facing a slight step up in competition on Thursday, based on Spain's 0-0 draw in the first semifinal. Germany enter Thursday's match with a perfect four wins in four games, having comfortably defeated Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark. Between their exiting play at the World Cup and their romp through qualifying, they entered the tournament with lofty expectations, and those expectations have carried over into the semifinals, where they are expected to defeat Italy.
Last Game: Germany 4-2 Greece | Italy 0-0 England
Joachim Löw tinkered with his lineup in the quarterfinals, citing the need for a different team against a different kind of opponent in Greece, as well as his displeasure with his team's performances even though they had won each of their matches. He'll probably take some pieces from the teams he fielded against Denmark and Greece to form a new side for the Italy match.
Marco Reus put in an excellent performance in place of Thomas Müller and seems like a good bet to keep his place. On the other side of pitch. Andre Schürrle looked selfish and hit eight shots off target in the quarterfinals. He'll probably be replaced by Lukas Podolski, who hasn't had a terrific tournament, but he does have one goal to his name. Löw could also go back to Mario Gomez up top, and he'll also be tempted to make a change at right back. Jerome Boateng was poor against Greece, and Sven Bender could return.
The hardest decisions Löw has to make center around which über-talented players he should bench, which some might call a good problem. Cesare Prandelli has a different kind of problem, thanks to suspensions and injuries. Christian Maggio is out on yellow card accumulation, and there are doubts over the fitness of Giorgio Chiellini, Ignazio Abate, Daniele De Rossi and Thiago Motta. Prandelli has the depth at central defense and central midfield to deal with the losses of Chiellini, Motta and De Rossi, but he's facing a crisis at right back if Abate can't get fit for the match. He's likely to tough it out if he's anywhere near fitness due to Maggio's suspension.
Italy has yet to face a team that attacks well with serious width in this tournament, though none of their opponents could be classified as useless down the flanks. Germany is a different animal, however, and they play much faster than any team Italy has faced thus far at Euro 2012. A healthy Abate and Federico Balzaretti are decent defenders, but they're both better going forward than they are at defending. Additionally, Italy play without wingers so there's no natural marker for Germany's fullbacks. Both of them will be aggressive in pushing up the pitch -- especially Philipp Lahm -- and Prandelli will have to account for them.
Related: Andrea Pirlo is still world class
The azzurri come into this game on short rest in addition to coming in with injuries and suspensions, but they at least have the comfort of knowing they have the tournament's most in-form player. At 33 years old, the short rest might get to Andrea Pirlo, but he'll be the best central midfielder on the pitch if he's fit. Bastian Schweinsteiger was poor against Greece and hasn't looked like a world class player in back-to-back games since he broke his collarbone over the winter. Antonio Nocerino and Claudio Marchisio are coming off of great seasons, and the latter has been very solid so far in this tournament, so Italy could have an advantage through the center if they can match the Germans for fitness.
Projected Italy Lineup (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Federico Balzaretti, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Ignazio Abate; Antonio Nocerino, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio; Riccardo Montolivo; Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli.
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: Injuries and fitness will not be kind to Italy. 2-0 Germany.
Game Date/Time: Thursday, June 28, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: National Stadium, Warsaw, Poland
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
We'll have live coverage of the match in our Germany vs. Italy, Euro 2012 Semifinals StoryStream. For more on Euro 2012 and the entire world of football, follow @SBNationSoccer on Twitter.