Italy 0-0 Germany: Andrea Belotti goes closest as European giants cancel each other out

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Back in July, this was a fixture that ended in frenzied circumstances, with the Italian totem Gianluigi Buffon in tears and his counterpart Manuel Neuer admitting he had never quite experienced anything like it.

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On that occasion, Germany had defeated Antonio Conte’s Italy in a penalty shoot-out to emerge as victors from the Euro 2016 quarter-finals in France.

Four months on, and this was the calm after the storm. There were reminders of that fateful evening, with the penalty fall guys Leonardo Bonucci and Matteo Darmian starting the game and, bless him, even Simone Zaza, he of penalty run-up shame, was granted a late run-out.

MATCH FACTS

Italy (3-4-3): Buffon (Donnaruma 46′), Rugani, Bonucci, Romagnoli (Astori 46′); Zappacosta, De Rossi, Parolo, Darmian; Immobile (Zaza 89′), Eder (Bernardeschi 68′), Belotti (Sansone 88′).

Subs: Donnarumma, Pavoletti, Izzo, Cataldi, Gagliardini, Bonaventura, Candreva, Antonelli, Verratti, Perin, De Sciglio, Insigne, Lapadula.

Germany (3-4-3): Leno; Howedes, Mustafi, Hummels (Tah 46′) Kimmich, Rudy, Weigl (Gotze 70′), Gerhardt; Gundogan, Goretzka (Gnabry 60′), Muller (Volland 60′).

Subs: Hector, Meyer, Henrichs, Ter Stegen, Gomez.

Booked: Gundogan, Tah

That, however, was as close as this game got to rekindling memories of summertime intensity. There was to be no Italian backlash, no visceral release to soothe the pain. Instead, very little happened at all.

On paper, a duel between these two European nations will always catch the eye but out on the pitch, this was a meandering contest that never really discovered a spark. These were ninety minutes of meek, often plodding football in which neither side appeared particularly enamoured by the prospect of a full-pelt encounter.

On an evening in which there were only three representatives from the Premier League in the starting line-ups – Manchester United’s Matteo Darmian in Italian blue lining up against Arsenal’s Shkodran Mustafi and Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundgogan in German colours – both sides appeared quite happy to muddle along without very much happening at all.

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The closest we came to disrupting the drudgery arrived midway through the second half, when substitute Kevin Volland poked home a cross for Joshua Kimmich, only to be denied by an offside flag.

This, perhaps, is what you end up with when you plonk a friendly game in the middle of November, with squads depleted and those who are out there keen simply to make sure they emerge unscathed for club pursuits in the winter months.

Clearly, injuries hampered the occasion and quite possibly an absence of appetite. Germany were missing goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defender Jerome Boateng as well as midfielders Toni Kroos, Julian Brandt and Julian Draxler through injury. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil was also absent, granted a rest during this international break. Allied with the retirements of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Phillip Lahm after the duo retired from national team duties, this was a German side that bore little resemblance to the one that toppled the world in Brazil in 2014.

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Indeed, the fact that seven members of the German starting line-up were not in the World Cup winning squad provides the clearest indication yet that Joachim Low is overseeing an evolution of his talent pool in preparation for Russia in 2018.

Italy, for their part, are experiencing something of a talent drain. They do not possess the players with the explosive gifts of yesteryear and the fire that burned from their eyes under Antonio Conte was not quite present on this occasion under new coach Giampiero Ventura. The 68-year-old manager has coached at 18 clubs in Italy but his only honour came with the Serie C title at Lecce in 1996. For all his experience, he has never managed AC Milan, Inter Milan, Roma, Napoli, Fiorentina or Roma. So it is, at least, comforting to know that it is not only England who find the search for elite homegrown coaches a forlorn task.

Still, the Italians did appear the more threatening early on, with centre-back Daniele Rugani bringing the game’s first save from Bernd Leno with a driven strike from distance.

At the other end, Germany threatened to adorn this game with a picture-book goal, most notably when Gundogan fed Muller with a glorious reverse pass, only to be denied by Buffon, the eternal presence in the Italian goal. Not for Buffon an evening off, not at the age of 38-year-old and over 150 caps to his name. In the second half, his heir apparent Gianluigi Donnarumma entered the stage, only 17 years old and 21 years the junior of Buffon.

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The game settled into a pattern, with Germany producing some pretty patterns in possession and imaginative movement off the ball. Shorn of the quite incredible life force that is the Chelsea manager Conte, Italy are not quite the same these days. They defend well enough, being the Italians that they are, but their attacking play often lacked pace and intent.

As the Germans teased with possession play, Volland had his goal disallowed when he edged just in front of the Italian defence to turn a cross home from the right-hand side.

At the other end, the Italians squandered two chances of their own, as first Federico Bernardeschi struck the ball too close to Bernd Leno when an opportunity presented itself in the penalty area and then Andrea Belotti drove the ball against the inside of the post with moments remaining.

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