A quarterfinal between Germany and Italy at Euro 2016 does not just mean a match between two giants that would be expected in a later round. It is a match that is all about the two tacticians coaching the teams: Joachim Löw and Antonio Conte, respectively.
As the two teams met in Bordeaux, the match started as expected, with the two coaches staying true to their smart reputations. Conte stuck to three-man defense that made Italy surprise quarterfinalists despite bringing a squad many considered to be one of their worst in recent memory. Löw prepared appropriately for the Italians, setting his team up in a defensive style. Julian Draxler, who was the team's star in their Round of 16 match against Slovakia, was replaced by defender Benedikt Höwedes in an attempt to keep out the Italian attack. Germany were dealt an early blow 15 minutes in after Sami Khedira went off injured, but replacement Bastian Schweinsteiger was able to keep the structure as his coach intended.
The plan worked for more than an hour. Neither team scored, and the defenses remained tough to break. However, in the 65th minute, a breakthrough came. The play started in Germany's defense through goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, leading for Mario Gómez to make a great pass to Jonas Hector, who got the assist on Mesut Özil's goal. After not conceding a goal during the tournament, Gianluigi Buffon had to pick the ball up out of the net for the first time.
Löw, with his team now in the lead, used his second substitution on Draxler, who came on for Gómez. Shifting his team to play in a more attacking style, the German was going for the win. Yet, as if the match had to remain as equal as possible, Jérôme Boateng had his hands as far away from his body as possible and conceded a penalty after the ball hit his hand. Center back Leonardo Bonucci, solid as he was in the back for Italy during the tournament, was just as important taking his first penalty for his country and scored in the 78th minute. Neuer, just like Buffon, conceded a goal for the first time in France.
Löw and Conte were equal again, and extra time was certain for the teams. In the second half of extra time, Conte made two subs while Löw remained confident in his group on the field. First was Lorenzo Insigne in the 108th minute, who came on for Éder as a set of fresh legs and to close out the extra time period. The deadlock was not broken. Finally, in his last tactical act of the night, Conte brought on Simone Zaza for Giorgio Chiellini in stoppage time, clearly with the intent that he was meant for the penalty shootout.
For all the hard work the two managers did, they cancelled each other out. The only way left for the long tactical battle to end was through several strokes of luck: a penalty shootout.
If the 120-minute match was a show of smart tactical decisions, the penalty shootout was its equivalent, only in horribly taken spot kicks. The shootout went to nine rounds, and included seven misses, including Graziano Pellè scuffing a shot after telling Neuer he was going for a chip.
Zaza basically undid the substitution his coach made, taking the penalty in a unique fashion that resembled the running man, only for him to miss in the most embarrassing fashion.
And so the best tactical chess match of Euro 2016 — the most cerebral, considered game anyone could have imagined — was settled in the most random manner of any game of the tournament, with Germany going through 6-5 on penalties.