- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

HAMBURG, Germany — Italy isn’t counting on a repeat of history, recent or otherwise, in the semifinals of the World Cup.

The Italians drubbed Germany, their opponent in today’s semifinal in Dortmund, in a friendly in March, a contest so one-sided that it nearly cost German coach Juergen Klinsmann his job. The more distant past is no more favorable for the Germans: They have never beaten Italy in four tries at the World Cup, and Italy leads the all-time series 13-7 with eight draws.

“It will be a completely different game. That was a friendly played in the middle of the league season,” defender Gianluca Zambrotta said of the March rout. “Now everyone’s focusing only on the World Cup.”

German captain Michael Ballack at least could joke about his country’s futility in the rivalry.

“We really stand no chance,” he said. “They beat us clearly and dominated us. Everything speaks against Germany. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Ballack knows better.

The semifinal actually is a matchup between two teams, not just one, on a roll.

Italy has not lost in 23 games, the second-longest streak in team history.

But Germany, playing inspired soccer before its home fans, is riding a streak of its own: The team has not lost in nine matches, a run that extends to that loss in Italy in March. Germany is on a five-game winning streak at the World Cup, its best start in history.

“We are hot,” Ballack conceded, “and we want to be in the final.”

Germany has an advantage today in that the semifinal will be played at Dortmund’s noisy stadium, where the Germans have never lost in 14 games.

The question for Germany is whether its young, attack-minded and well-organized team can deal with the veterans of Italy, who defend well and inflict damage on the counterattack.

Italy also has talented playmaker Francesco Totti back from injury.

Ballack, Germany’s playmaker, and Miroslav Klose, who has scored five goals, both have been cleared to play after suffering minor injuries in the team’s quarterfinal win over Argentina on penalty kicks on Friday.

However, Klinsmann will have to play without key midfielder Torsten Frings, who was suspended yesterday for punching Argentina forward Julio Cruz in a melee after the match. Frings, a key player in Germany’s run, must sit out two matches. However, one of those penalties was suspended six months, meaning Frings could return for the final if Germany beats Italy today.

“I don’t think we were the culprits,” Klinsmann said. “He should be in the lineup Tuesday.”

Germany does hold an advantage if today’s match is decided by penalty kicks: It has never lost a shootout. Italy, however, has an awful record in shootouts, losing to France in the World Cup quarterfinals in 1998, in the championship game to Brazil in the United States in 1994 and in the semifinal against Argentina in 1990.

“You watch the Germans against Argentina, and they’re masters, aren’t they?” England defender Gary Neville said. “If it went to penalties, there was only going to be one winner.”

Italy again will play without key defender Alessandro Nesta, who was injured against the Czech Republic and missed Italy’s last two matches. The Italian defense has been tough with and without Nesta, surrendering only an own-goal through the quarterfinals.

“Italy is one of the best teams in the world, and that’s why it’s in the final four,” said Klinsmann, his team now two wins away from a fourth World Cup title. “It has great history and tradition and deserves the highest respect.

“We think that with our style and game we can beat them, though. And that’s what we are going to do tomorrow night,” he said.

• The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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