THE DAY REPLAYED: Italy knew they could not afford to take on Germany in a penalty contest. In FIFA World Cups German efficiency does not permit failure from 12 yards they have come out on top in every penalty showdown they've contested while Italy have known only suffering: three defeats in three. So if the Azzurri were going to march on to Berlin on 9 July they had to do the business before the 120 minutes were up.
The clock inside the Dortmund stadium showed 119 minutes when they struck. There was barely time for Germany to respond. But just to make sure, Italy broke away and scored again. The hopes of a home nation who have contributed so much to making this a successful FIFA World Cup were reduced to dust and carried away on the night air.
The dream of a second triumph in their own tournament is no more. Instead it is Marcello Lippi's men who have the opportunity to put four FIFA World Cups in their locker. In their sixth Final, Italy will face either France or Portugal who meet in the second semi-final in Munich tomorrow.
Had Germany prevailed they would have arrived in Berlin with their energy reserves severely depleted. Jurgen Klinsmann's brave troops had toiled through extra time and penalties to see off the challenge of Argentina. Another long, exhausting shift followed tonight before Italy cut through just as time was running out.
Their late show brought joy to a country where football means so much but which over recent weeks has had to look seriously at itself with an investigation into allegations of match-fixing threatening to relegate four of their biggest clubs. One of those is AC Milan who provided the Man of the Match in Andrea Pirlo. Another is Juventus who provided the second goalscorer last night in Alessandro Del Piero who applied a smart finish from Alberto Gilardino's neat pass.
While the smart money insisted that the turmoil back home would affect Italy's chances here in a negative way, perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps they have been motivated to pull out something extra. Perhaps, as Lippi has insisted all along, it's had no effect whatsoever.
It was a tough challenge for them tonight with the host nation surfing a tidal wave of euphoria. The venue threatened to be significant as well: Germany had never lost in Dortmund, 14 games played before tonight and only Wales holding out for a draw. Against that they had never beaten Italy in four attempts at FIFA World Cups.
Klinsmann chose to replace the suspended Torsten Frings with Sebastian Kehl, a Borussia Dortmund player who knows the special atmosphere of this stadium all too well. He also took the decision to stand down Bastian Schweinsteiger with Tim Borowski given the responsibility of making those left-midfield surges. Concern among the Italian supporters centred on whether their idols would stay strong with a gigantic prize so close at hand and in the face of such noise and fervour.
They needn't have worried, their creative players got on the ball from the first whistle and began posing questions. In the sides' friendly fixture in Florence in March Italy were two ahead inside seven minutes on their way to a 4-1 victory. It was never going to be like that here although Italy again had the better of the first half.
**Player of the Day**
- Andrea Pirlo a cool head and pinpoint passing *
Pirlo rarely wasted a ball and Francesco Totti similarly bestrode the central areas with assurance. They were able to find their forward runners with regularity. But at the same time they needed Fabio Cannavaro to show his qualities at the back with a couple of timely challenges. It was nip and tuck all the way through the 90 minutes.
Moment of the Day
The whistle to start extra time
Italy knew they had to produce something special now. It revealed itself in their approach as immediately Alberto Gilardino screwed a shot against Jens Lehmann's left-hand post. A minute later Gianluca Zambrotta ran on to a loose ball but his rising effort kissed the bar on its way over.
It was never going to reprise 1970 when the teams scored the highest number of extra-time goals (five in a 4-3 Italy victory) but these were close calls. Germany were also going all out for the win and Podolski will look back with regret on a headed chance he powered wide.
Goal of the Day
*Fabio Grosso: Italy 1-0 *
The breakthrough came as Pirlo bided his time in possession before ushering Grosso into space. The defender's curling left-footer gave Lehmann no chance and with Del Piero adding a second it left Germany to contemplate the Match for Third Place while Italy have the Big Prize in their sights.