Ozil firmly focused on Italy


Soccer:Germany star Mesut Ozil today refused to fall into the trap of eyeing a “dream final” against Spain at the European Championship but was confident of ending his country’s Italy jinx.

Even before the Germans and Spanish reached the semi-finals, there was talk of a mouthwatering repeat of the Euro 2008 final in Kiev on Sunday. But Ozil was part of the Real Madrid side who many tipped to set up a ‘dream’ Champions League final against Barcelona two months ago, only for Chelsea and Bayern Munich to spoil the party.

The semi-finals of Euro 2012 could conceivably witness a repeat, with Portugal having thrashed Spain the last time the two countries met and Germany having never beaten Italy in seven tournament meetings.

Their last encounter came at the same stage of the 2006 World Cup, where the Italians shattered German hopes of a home triumph before going on to lift the title themselves.

Ozil was therefore coy about discussing the prospect of a Germany-Spain showdown.

“It would be wrong for me to say Germany against Spain would be a ‘dream final’,” the midfielder said. “There are four teams in the semi-finals and we need to make the next step, which also applies to Spain.

“We’re fully concentrated on Italy and Italy only, and only then will we see who we play against. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Whether it’s Spain or Portugal.”

And despite Italy having proven Germany’s bogey team down the years, Ozil was unconcerned about facing them.

“Italy are very strong, they are technically superbly organised,” he said, refusing to dwell on his country’s past defeats. If we play to our full potential then we’ll come up winners.”

Ozil played down the impact of Germany having two days more to prepare for Thursday’s semi-final than their opponents, who also played extra-time last night.

“The Italians will have enough of a break,” he said, describing the Azzurri as the “surprise package of the tournament”.

“Even against the reigning world champions, Spain, they had a fantastic game in the group stages. They’re absolutely rightly there where they belong.”

That is largely thanks to the performances of Andrea Pirlo, who tormented England last night and scored an impudent clipped penalty in his country’s shootout triumph.

“The fact he scored that penalty in a cheeky manner is really one of his distinctive characteristics,” said Ozil, hailing Pirlo as one of the world’s great midfielders. “I would’ve taken a penalty and I think I would’ve scored, too, maybe not in the same fashion...”

He also declared Mario Balotelli had “vindicated himself” last night with his performance, something that could also be said of Ozil himself in Germany’s quarter-final against Greece.

Head coach Joachim Low admitted before that match that “the big explosion of Ozil” had yet to come and the 23-year-old certainly responded with two assists in a 4-2 win.

“I was immensely happy for me to have shown what I can do at last,” Ozil said. “I will demonstrate in the game against Italy that I can put my foot on the pedal.”

Germany were set to be boosted today by the return to training of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was forced to sit out the weekend sessions due to an ongoing ankle problem.

Ozil said: “There’s no question about it. We need Schweinsteiger. He’s a class player, he’s one of the leaders. I admit that he’s been injured, but I think that he’s on a very good track.”

“I really do hope and keep my fingers crossed for him to get fit on time.”

And despite his reluctance to look too far ahead, Ozil left little doubt as to Germany’s ambition at Euro 2012 as they look to end a 16-year silverware drought.

“Our objective is to bring the trophy back to Germany,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for and I’m convinced we can do it.”

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