Toni Kroos, Germany's engine for the entirety of this Euro 2016 campaign, scored his team's 2nd penalty in a Sturm und Drang penalty shootout filled with erratic emotions and a plethora of embarrassing penalties as the German's progress to the semi-finals - another penalty shootout triumph for them preceded by a 1-1 scoreline in regulation.
The match was disciplined, as expected, even if it did have bizarre anomalies sprinkled throughout. Italy's counter-press was largely effective, though Germany did well to play themselves out of it with their positioning and intricate passing. Italy did well to recover if their initial press was fractured, and their 3-5-2 has been traditionally hard to penetrate for any possession-oriented team. After Mesut Ozil broke through in the 65th minute to open the scoring, the Italians were given a lifeline - an uncharacteristic handball in the box from Jerome Boateng.
Enter anomaly #1 - Boateng gives birth to inexhaustible memes
The margin of error was so miniscule in this game, it's unfathomable that it almost came down to a blip, nay, a completely preventable mental meltdown. Had Germany lost this match, Boateng's decision to stick his hands in the air for no apparent reason would have made him, and his hand(s), the Draymond Green brain-fart suspension nightmare of Euro 2016.
Instead, Boateng and Germany squeaked by, leaving behind more memes than Zinedine Zidane's headbutt in '06 and Kevin Durant's heartfelt MVP speech in '14 - trailing only Michael Jordan's eternal tears.
To reiterate, Germany squeaked by. They trumped the Italians by committing one less cringey penalty on the night.
Enter anomaly #2 - cringey penalties
Both Italy and Germany are renowned disciplinarians, tactically shrewd, and efficient. So when they missed a combined seven penalties in the shootout, it was both disastrous and comical. Disastrous, because it induced cataclysmic emotions among two nations, comical because the penalty misses were, terrible.
Graziano Pelle spewed some trash to Neuer before fluffing his penalty wide, Thomas Mueller casually hit a very saveable penalty, and Simone Zaza did his best rendition of running man before skying it. And because none of those descriptions are descriptive enough, well - you just have to see it for yourself:
How is Pelle going to lie about where he's going to shoot and still miss. Trash pic.twitter.com/EKtuQFABti— Z (@Zeaadology) July 2, 2016
Muller's penalty kick pic.twitter.com/zvjjOr8K0I— max (@MaxRappaport) July 2, 2016
Every time you think of a good tweet in the shower, run to your phone and then fire it off with 3 typos https://t.co/YiAertIVqS— jay caspian kang (@jaycaspiankang) July 2, 2016
Toni Kroos subdued
In the five games played thus far, this was Kroos' most laborious performance. Widely recognized as the top passer of the tournament - and it's not even close - Kroos struggled today. Some of that is on him, but a ton of it has to do with surrounding forces. Italy's head coach Antonio Conte knew that in order to to stifle Germany's flow, Kroos had to be man-marked - and he was. Kroos has evolved into an anchoring role over the past few years - an evolution that has accelerated over the past couple months - and he played as the deepest-lying midfielder for the umpteenth time in this tournament. Conte realized this, and brilliantly man-marked him without the ball, snuffing out his ability to dictate play and distribute as prolifically as he normally does (quick digression - this is exactly why I've, over and over again, mentioned that the key to disrupting Barcelona / Spain's flow is to do the same with Busquets).
It didn't help that, in the first half, Sami Khedira was forced off the pitch with an injury. In came Bastian Schweinsteiger - an inferior outlet to play alongside. Khedira is underrated in that respect - he's a diligent midfielder who hovers in the pockets he needs to in order to ping passes to his teammates. Schweinsteiger often drifted, was caught up the field, and Kroos was suffocated. He just can't be effective in that situation.
Yet, it's important to note Kroos wasn't awful by any means - a narrative you might be tempted to believe based on your Twitter feeds or reactions from your television pundits. He was in a very difficult situation to be in for any midfielder, and still managed to have an efficient passing night to along with his penalty conversion in the shootout.
It will be interesting to see if the winner of tomorrow's France / Iceland match recognize Conte's tactics and try to emulate them - even if it's their own hybrid interpretation. For now, Germany awaits their opponent, and Kroos marches on - one of four Madridista's in this year's semi-finals.