- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

DORTMUND, Germany — The Germans saw their hopes of reaching the World Cup final in Berlin come to an end in the last three minutes of extra time yesterday against Italy.

With a penalty kick shootout looming after 118 scoreless minutes of high-paced soccer, Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero scored a goal apiece to give Italy a 2-0 semifinal win before 65,000 at the Westfalen Stadium.

“Italy deserved to win,” Italy coach Marcello Lippi said. “We controlled the play more than Germany did and, in the end, we got these two great goals, which allowed us to avoid the roulette of a penalty shootout.”

History wasn’t on the side of the Italians. Italy is 0-3 in shootouts at the World Cup while Germany boasts a 4-0 mark.

But the Germans hadn’t considered those statistics.

“We would never go into a game thinking we would have to secure a tie. We were playing for a win,” said German coach Juergen Klinsmann.

Until that point it was an evenly played game. Both defenses seemed impossible to penetrate. The two goalies were flawless.

Breaking the deadlock would require either a major error or a moment of brilliance.

Then in the 119th minute the moment came for Italy.

Man-of-the-match midfielder Andrea Pirlo ran with the ball along the 18-yard line toward the right flank. Then with his right foot, Pirlo flicked the ball to Grosso, who was perfectly positioned in the box. Grosso then curled a right-footed shot past German goalie Jens Lehmann for the game’s first goal.

Germany tried in vain for a quick equalizer and left itself vulnerable at the back as Italy counter-attacked. The ball came to substitute Alberto Gilardino, who ran at the German defense, then held up while waiting for Del Piero. As Del Pierro entered the box, Gilardino timed his pass perfectly. The Juventus veteran floated the ball beyond Lehmann’s reach.

“We are hugely disappointed, [but] you can only compliment the team. They’re a young team,” Klinsmann said. “It’s amazing the spirit they showed, the character. They made a whole country really proud. It’s something very special to play a World Cup in your home country.”

It first appeared as if the teams would have little trouble scoring.

Gilardino got around Michael Ballack, but his shot hit the post. Then Gianluca Zambrotta fired a rocket that hit the crossbar.

Just as the first 15 minutes of extra time was ending, German striker Lukas Podolski had a clear shot on goal from David Odonkor’s cross, but the 21-year-old headed wide.

Podolski looked like he had the winner in the 112th minute when he had only Gianluigi Buffon to beat. But the Italian keeper, who has only given up one goal in the finals — an own goal in the game against the U.S. — made the save.

Then came Italy’s moment of brilliance, which caused the Germans to suffer in a stadium where they had never lost in 14 attempts.

Germany has yet to beat Italy in the World Cup. The Germans lost to Italy in the 1970 semifinals and fell again to the Italians in the 1982 final game in Spain. The win extends Italy’s 24-game winning steak — the longest since 1939. The three-time champions — who won the title in 1934, 1938 and 1982 — face either France or Portugal in the final in Berlin.

Germany was attempting to become the first nation to reach its eighth World Cup final. Instead it must settle for playing in Saturday’s third-place match.

Note — The Italian players haven’t showed signs of being distracted by the corruption scandal that is shaking their country’s domestic league. The scandal could ultimately affect five of Italy’s World Cup players — captain Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Del Pierro, Mauro Camoranesi and Buffon — who play for champion Juventus, the club at the center of the controversy. Yesterday Juventus coach Fabio Capello resigned after the prosecuting attorney demanded that Juventus be relegated from the top league — Serie A — to Serie C1.

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