Originally created 07/04/06

Italy favored, but Germans upbeat



BERLIN - Michael Ballack looks at scorelines from recent matches between Italy and Germany and draws a grim conclusion.

"We really stand no chance," the German captain said on the eve of today's semifinal match between Germany and Italy. "They beat us clearly and dominated us. Everything speaks against Germany, it's a wonderful feeling."

Ballack was joking, of course. But he could have been serious.

Italy thrashed Germany 4-1 in a friendly in March that nearly cost coach Juergen Klinsmann his job. And AC Milan routed Bayern Munich, then still Ballack's club, 4-1 in the Champions League.

Germany hasn't lost since that March game, a run of nine matches, including a five-game winning streak at the World Cup - its best start in history. Italy, on the other hand, is unbeaten in 23 games, its second-longest streak.

In four World Cup meetings, Germany has never beaten Italy, including two draws. Their most recent World Cup match was the 1982 final, which Italy won 3-1. Italy also leads the all-time series 13-7, with eight draws.

World Cup history might be on Italy's side, but Germany is playing at home, at its favorite stadium in the country.

Germany has never lost at Dortmund's noisy stadium and has only one draw in 14 games.

"We are really looking forward to playing in Dortmund, it adds to our faith and confidence," Ballack said. "We are hot, and we want to be in the final."

Italy won't be without its own supporters, thanks in part to a large Italian community in the area. Most immigrants come from Italy's southern regions of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily.

Midfielder Gennaro Gattuso is from Calabria and three of his aunts live in Germany.

"It would bring them a huge amount of joy if Italy were able to beat Germany, although we've got to remember it's just a game of soccer," Gattuso said.

The Azzurri have persevered through a Serie A corruption scandal and the grave condition of former teammate Gianluca Pessotto, who was hospitalized in Turin after falling out of a window.

Germany had a tougher road into the semifinals, however, only getting past Argentina on penalties after a 1-1 draw in extra time.

Italy cruised past Ukraine 3-0 and has conceded only an own-goal. Its toughest obstacles have come from home.

"Italy is one of the best teams in the world and that's why it's in the final four," Klinsmann said. "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.

Ballack gave three reasons he thought were enough for Germany to win - the team is on a roll, its confidence is great and its fans are becoming a factor.

Germany's chances were dealt a blow Monday when FIFA suspended midfielder Torsten Frings for punching Argentina forward Julio Cruz in a fracas after their quarterfinals match.



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