Stopping Pirlo the key for youthful Germany

KRAKOW, Poland Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:04pm EDT

1 of 2. Italy's national soccer players Alessandro Diamanti (L) and Andrea Pirlo attend a training session during the Euro 2012 in Krakow June 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - Bastian Schweinsteiger is winning his battle to be fit for Thursday's Euro 2012 semi-final against Italy where the relentless midfielder will have to nullify the mercurial Andrea Pirlo if Germany are to end their hoodoo.

The Germans have never beaten Italy at a major championship, famously losing the 2006 World Cup semi-final on home soil to the eventual victors, but they are favorites to progress this time having won all four matches so far in Poland and Ukraine.

However, they have yet to come up against a midfielder with the class of Pirlo, who has scored or set up all Italy's goals here and produced a wonderful display in the quarter-final with England before scoring the cheekiest of penalties.

The dinked spot kick in the shootout showed the 33-year-old is far from over the hill as some had wondered and instead is reveling in a confident spell of form which pundits already think could lead him to be named player of the tournament.

"Pirlo's penalty even surprised me," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli told reporters. "Then when he said that he took it like that to put pressure on the English I realized that there is always something to learn from champions like him."

If anyone can stop his raking passes in Warsaw, it is the dynamic Schweinsteiger, who seems to cover every blade of grass and epitomizes Germany's youthful yet experienced side of all-round talents.

Schweinsteiger suffered an ankle injury in February and it is still hampering his movement but the team is hopeful he can play after missing two days of training to rest.

"Bastian is a world class player and he is a leading player in our team," said playmaker Mesut Ozil. "I hope he can be fit in time for the game."

"GREAT SQUAD"

Otherwise Germany are fully fit and at full strength with coach Joachim Loew widely expected to bring back at least two of the front three he surprisingly rested in the 4-2 quarter-final win over Greece.

Main striker Mario Gomez is likely to come back in for Miroslav Klose given his extra bulk against a wily Italian defense while Lukas Podolski and Thomas Mueller will also be hoping for recalls.

Italy center half Giorgio Chiellini is back in training after missing the England game with a thigh problem and could feature while Prandelli has niggles to Daniele De Rossi and Ignazio Abate to worry about and right back Christian Maggio's suspension.

Italy created reams of chances in the goalless 120 minutes against England and their lack of a finishing touch will haunt them if it continues in the Polish capital.

Prandelli seems to be leaning towards giving Mario Balotelli another chance despite his quarter-final misses.

"Mario was always in the moves that counted," the coach said while acknowledging Germany were favorites to join Spain and Portugal in the July 1 final in Kiev.

"They are some years ahead of us. After the 2006 World Cup they focused on youth and now they have a great squad."

(Editing by Justin Palmer)

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