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3 things we learned from Germany's penalty shootout win over Italy at Euro 2016

Italy and Germany put on a fantastic show in one of the best-played matches of the tournament, but only one side could advance to the semifinal.

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Germany and Italy played a brilliant match. It was a tactical and hard-fought battle with plenty of close, heart-stopping moments at either end of the pitch, as two of Europe's best sides played their hearts out for 120 minutes for a place in the Euro 2016 semifinal. The match had to go to penalties after the score was still at 1-1 after 120 minutes, and a dramatic and bizarre penalty shootout saw Germany advance after one of the best matches of the tournament so far.

The first half was widely derided as a dull affair for its lack of goals, but the truth was anything but. Both Italy and Germany played a quick-paced passing game to try to beat the hard press both sides were employing, creating plenty of attacking opportunities at either end of the pitch. The lack of scoring wasn't because of a stodgy, slow-paced game plan by either Joachim Löw or Antonio Conte. It was because of impressive defensive stands, especially from Jerome Boateng and Leonardo Bonucci, and because of a series of miscues from Mario Gomez and Eder in the German and Italian attacks.

The early injury to Sami Khedira forced Germany to change their approach somewhat, with substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger not able to run hard for days on end like he once could. That forced Germany to dial back the aggression a bit, a change that played into Italy's hands as they weathered Germany's first-half efforts to score. Still, Schweinsteiger was able to help stifle Italy's own attempts to get forward.

Germany changed up their approach again in the second half to try and unlock the Italian defense, and it was a change that largely seemed to work. A shift in positioning allowed Mesut Özil, who had been very quiet in the first half, a lot more freedom, and he took full advantage of that. Özil was on the ball much more frequently and became a major attacking threat for Germany, making penetrating runs in a way that we haven't seen from him since his best days at Real Madrid and Werder Bremen before a couple of leg injuries slowed him down.

One of those runs from Özil proved crucial when he crashed the box in an utterly unexpected way and banged home a weird deflected cross-shot from Mario Gomez before Italy's slow-reacting defense could get to him. It was a stunning goal to see, even with Germany's improved attack, because the way it was scored was so unexpected -- but the goal counted all the same, and Germany were up 1-0 with Italy reeling to try and recover.

But recover they did, and an attempt at a counter attack in the 77th minute lead to a corner kick when Jerome Boateng had to put a ball over the top to Graziano Pelle out behind the goal instead of trying to play it out. When the corner was served up, it was Boateng again at the focus of things -- this time for flailing his arms into the air and striking the ball, earning Italy a penalty that Leonardo Bonucci coolly put away to level the score for Italy.

Neither team could unlock one another in the few minutes of regulation time left, and they had to go to extra time to try to find a winner. Unlike previous Euro 2016 matches we've seen go to extra time because neither team was willing to take risks and expose themselves, Germany and Italy both took plenty of chances and played magnificently. But neither team could find the tie-breaking goal before the whistle blew after the second half.

Extra time was played at a somewhat slower pace than the rest of the match had been, with lots of tired legs on both teams and tempers starting to flair. That required a greater dose of control, and while the match wasn't played at the same breakneck pace from earlier, there was still plenty of urgency and desire to score from both teams. Germany was showing well in the final third and forcing Italy into some brilliant defensive stands, and Italy still threatened on the counter whenever they had a chance to break Germany's pressure.

Antonio Conte started chasing a win more aggressively in the second half of extra time, taking out a hobbled and worn out Eder for the attacking influence of Lorenzo Insigne, a move that perhaps should have been made much earlier considering how ineffective Eder was for much of the match. Insigne did everything he could to drive Italy's attack, including one excellent turn and shot that Manuel Neuer saved, and regularly streaking forward to find space on the counter attack.

That wasn't enough to unlock the German defense, though, and Germany couldn't beat Italy's defense either, sending the game to a dramatic penalty shootout. Insigne and Toni Kroos made the first two penalties of the shootout, but last-minute substitute Simone Zaza blazed high after an exaggerated run-up. Müller couldn't capitalize on the opportunity, though, with Gianluigi Buffon making the save -- and the venerable goalkeeper came up huge again, saving on Özil's try after Andrea Barzagli put Italy up 2-1. Graziano Pellè had a chance to virtually assure an Italy win, but pushed his shot wide, allowing Julian Draxler to level.

That sent Leonardo Bonucci up to challenge Manuel Neuer for the second time in the match -- but Neuer wouldn't be beaten again, making the save. Bastian Schweinsteiger couldn't win it for Germany, though, missing his shot and sending the shootout to sudden death. Both sides made their next three shots, but Neuer's save on Matteo Darmian allowed Jonas Hector to fire Germany through to the semifinal, winning their first-ever competitive match against Italy along the way.

Germany: Manuel Neuer; Benedikt Höwedes, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels; Jonas Hector, Sami Khedira (Bastian Schweinsteiger 15'), Toni Kroos, Joshua Kimmich; Mesut Özil; Thomas Müller, Mario Gomez (Julian Draxler 72')

Goals: Özil (65')

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Simone Zaza 120'); Alessandro Florenzi (Matteo Darmian 86'), Stefano Sturaro, Marco Parolo, Emanuele Giaccherini, Mattia De Sciglio; Eder (Lorenzo Insigne 108'), Graziano Pellè

Goals: Bonucci (pen. 78')

Three things we learned

Where has this Emanuele Giaccherini been?

That's the question Sunderland fans are asking themselves, and to some extent Bologna fans are, as well. Giaccherini was excellent for Italy, helping drive the ball forward whenever he had it at his feet, and always making runs into space when another one of Italy's midfielder had it. Every time Italy were in the final third, he was penetrating the box to put pressure on Germany's back line, forcing them to account for him even in the face of attackers elsewhere.

Giaccherini was also very effective when Germany was on the ball, basically pressing Toni Kroos into ineffectiveness, and keeping Josh Kimmich in check whenever Mattia De Sciglio had to switch to marking Thomas Müller. He spent the whole match looking cool and confident and effective, a far cry from the lost and woeful player who scuffled through two seasons at Sunderland and was better, if wildly inconsistent, at Bologna.

Will the real Thomas Müller please stand up?

Müller hasn't been bad by any means, neither in this match nor in the rest of the tournament so far. But he also hasn't really been Thomas Müller, the always-moving dynamo who can score and assist with equal ease and high quality. Instead he's been somewhat tentative, not nearly as sharp as normal, and not the dominant, reliable presence Germany have needed him to be.

That's never been more obvious than it was against Italy, when he struggled to find space even when Italy's back line wasn't pressing him with any particular vigor compared to their efforts against other players. When he was on the ball, he was a step slow and a beat off from his teammates, leading to too many turnovers and back passes. Müller rarely looked like a scoring threat, which Germany badly needed him to be.

Italy's makeshift wingbacks are legitimately excellent

A year ago, Alessandro Florenzi was an attacking midfielder. Mattia De Sciglio was a right back. Both were promising players, but were struggling for regular playing time with their club sides in Italy. Over the last season, both moved into new roles and exploded into prominence because of it, with Florenzi moving to right back and De Sciglio swapping to the left side, two moves that helped the pair shine and break into Antonio Conte's starting lineup with Gli Azzurri.

Their improvements in their new roles was on display in a big way against Germany, with the pair absolutely dominating their opposite numbers in the Die Mannschaft lineup, providing a lot of attacking impetus with switching balls and supporting runs, and keeping Germany's attack from generating any effective width, forcing them inside where Italy had numbers and a hard press to keep them at bay. And that ninja-kick clearance in midair by Florenzi to keep Müller from scoring in the second half? Come on. That's not fair. Both Florenzi and De Sciglio have been excellent all tournament long, but against Germany they were truly at their best.