Warsaw, Poland. Germany captain Philipp Lahm has admitted they were not “clever enough” after Joachim Loew’s team was found wanting in their 2-1 Euro 2012 semi-final defeat to Italy.
It ensured their trophy drought dating back to Euro ‘96 would last at least another two years to the 2014 World Cup should they qualify.
Italy striker Mario Balotelli broke German hearts on Thursday with a first-half header and sublime strike as the inexperienced Germans (the youngest of the 16 teams at Euro 2012) failed to cope with Cesare Prandelli’s Italy.
Germany had a faint lifeline when Mesut Ozil converted a 92nd-minute penalty after a handball by Federico Balzaretti, but it was too little, too late as the perplexed looks in the German ranks told their own tale at the final whistle.
For all their potential and the impressive attack-minded football they showed in their Euro 2012 wins over Portugal, Holland, Denmark and Greece, Loew’s team clearly had no Plan B when things went wrong.
“The most bitter thing is that this team has so much potential for so much more,” fumed Lahm as the Germans’s 15-match winning streak in competitive games was broken.
“But we weren’t clever enough. If you don’t show that potential at the right point in time, then you lose a game like that. It is a very, very bitter defeat. We made some stupid mistakes and we shouldn’t have conceded the goals like that. If you find yourselves behind against the Italians, it is very hard to come back,” Lahm added.
Having dropped three of his forwards for last Friday’s 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece, Loew again tinkered with his starting line-up, but this time it back-fired as the Italians ruled the midfield in the first half.
Arsenal-bound Lukas Podolski was hauled off at half-time, striker Mario Gomez also made way for 34-year-old veteran Miroslav Klose after the break, while Toni Kroos barely troubled the Italian defense from the right wing.
“I wanted to strengthen things in midfield, which is why I brought in Toni,” explained Loew. “The goals we conceded came from mistakes, because we weren’t present enough around the area. The cross from which Balotelli scored his opening goal shouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
We had things under control at the start, but after falling behind we took more risks and weren’t as well organized,” he added.
“After going 2–0 down, we had to risk everything. The team showed a lot of heart in the second-half, but when you find yourself 2–0 down against the Italians it is incredibly difficult.”
Having finished third at the last two World Cups and lost the Euro 2008 final, this is the fourth consecutive tournament the Germans have reached at least the semi-final.
Loew has a contract until after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the pressure can only have increased to deliver a trophy and realize his team’s obvious potential.