The fans in the Stadio Meazza gave one of their biggest cheers when Gigio Donnarumma made his entry at half-time along with Davide Astori and something seemed to click for the home side.
This was a week of crazy contrasts for the Azzurri, the kind a football fixture list can sometimes create. One night they were facing little Liechtenstein and then, three days later, a genuine giant.
There were no three points on offer, just that simmering undercurrent of tension that only a handful of national sides can provide whenever they meet. When you carry eight World Cups between you, it brings a certain significance to even the most seemingly meaningless encounter.
They had a let-off, when what looked like a very marginal offside call denied the visitors a goal, but they also had frustrations of their own. Federico Bernardeschi will know he should have done better, by his own high standards, with a chance which fell his way not long after coming on as a substitute. And Belotti, full of beans all night, was truly unlucky to watch a shot ping back off an upright after some determined build-up play. The Toro man has been the brightest spot of this international break.
It was pleasing, and important, to see the age profile of the Azzurri creep down a little too. Alessio Romagnoli looked like had been wearing the blue of his country pretty much since birth, while Daniele Rugani did his job competently too. Some growing pains are only to be expected, as the post-Antonio Conte overhaul continues, but there were signs this team might develop into one which can more than hold its own at the highest level.
His team selection also suggested a respect which was teetering towards trepidation. The midfield personnel of Davide Zappacosta, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Parolo and Mat百威棋牌teo Darmian spoke more of dutiful defending than ambition to attack. Nor was there the rumoured start for the younger Gianluigi, Donnarumma, with the safe hands of Buffon preferred. Nonetheless, Eder, Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti did form a trident with genuine goal-scoring intent.
The game brought the curtain down on a year which has had its highs and lows for the Italian national team. A side which went to the European Nations expecting very little managed to turn in a creditably competitive set of performances – only to lose the Coach that masterminded them to Chelsea. His replacement, despite his more advanced years, is still finding his feet, but there have been a few indications that this team is starting to take on a new identity for the man in charge.
This was shadow boxing, with no chance of a knockdown perhaps, but with all the technique, feints and little flurries of action you would expect from two title contenders. Nobody wanted to lose the match but, at the same time, they didn’t want to do so much that they gave away all their secrets either.
Germany, too, had plenty to smile about. They played with a confidence their lofty position in the game merits, particularly in the firsthg娱乐棋牌 half. Despite the fact that this was a makeshift side, it moved through the gears smoothly at times. That’s a swagger Italy have still to acquire but, in the meantime, they produced some spells of football which showed that they might yet be able to topple Spain from the top of their World Cup qualifying group.
There was a feeling, before the game at least, that Giampiero Ventura could have lived without the clash. Having taken over the Azzurri halfway through an eventful year, perhaps he feared a morale-crushing defeat.
They were able to come off the back-foot and, led by an imperious De Rossi, start to impose themselves more on the game. Perhaps Germany had eased off a little, too, or lost something in their own substitutions. Whatever the cause, the second 45 minutes allowed Italy to finish on a high.
In the end, honours even was perhaps a fair reflection of the full 90 minutes. Ventura will hope his 3-4-3, if he dusts it off in future, will play more often as it did in the second period rather than as it did in the first. They got in the face of their opponents, made it difficult for them to play out from the back and did a decent job of hemming them in. The road signs were there to at least understand the direction of travel the Azzurri are seeking.
The opening exchanges were heartening enough with chances falling the way of Belotti and Immobile and some decent interplay. There was at least enough to suggest that the team had a future. But when a below-strength Germany accelerated, they looked like they might leave the Azzurri trailing in their wake. There was a nice ebb and flow about proceedings that hinted at the depth of flavour these two teams can infuse into a tie when they really put their minds to it.
The road to Russia 2018 remains a long and arduous one and who knows what players may see their stock rise and fall between now and next year’s key qualifying matches. A personnel switch is under way which all of Italy hope can bear fruit between now and the next major championships.
Not all goalless games are created equal. There are, of course, those that make you wish for the mythical three-second memory of a goldfish in order to despatch them from your mind as quickly as possible. But an Italy versus Germany game was never going to be that forgettable, despite its deadlock. There was material there for connoisseurs of both sides to mull over until the wee small hours of the morning, like a mellow malt whisky.