DUISBURG, Germany (AP) - A friendly game at home in March is one thing. Playing host Germany in the World Cup semifinals at a stadium where it's never lost is another altogether.
Naturally, Italy isn't expecting to repeat its 4-1 drubbing of Germany when they meet Tuesday in Dortmund.
"It will be a completely different game," defender Gianluca Zambrotta said. "That was a friendly played in the middle of the league season. Now everyone's focusing only on the World Cup."
After the loss in Florence, Juergen Klinsmann's days as Germany's coach seemed numbered. Now his team is two wins away from what would be its fourth World Cup title.
"We really stand no chance," German captain Michael Ballack said on the eve of Tuesday's semifinal match between Germany and Italy. "They beat us clearly and dominated us. Everything speaks against Germany, it's a wonderful feeling."
Ballack was joking, of course. But he could have been serious. The Italians, of course, are hoping that March game doesn't provide new encouragement for Germany.
"I said then and I'll say it again now. That score does not reflect the German team's gap with Italy and it doesn't reflect that Italy is that much better than Germany," Italy coach Marcello Lippi said.
Add to the equation that Germany has never lost in Dortmund in 14 games.
"We are really looking forward to playing in Dortmund, it adds to our faith and confidence," Ballack said. "We are hot and we want to be in the final."
Italy won't be without its own supporters, thanks in part to a large Italian community in the area. Most immigrants come from Italy's southern regions of Calabria, Puglia and Sicily.
The Azzurri have persevered through a Serie A corruption scandal and the grave condition of former teammate Gianluca Pessotto, who was hospitalized in Turin after falling out of a window.
Germany had a tougher road into the semifinals, however, only getting past Argentina on penalties after a 1-1 draw in extra time.
Italy cruised past Ukraine 3-0 and has conceded only an own-goal. Its toughest obstacles during this tournament have come from home.
"Italy is one of the best teams in the world and that's why it's in the final four," Klinsmann said. "It has great history and tradition and deserves the highest respect.
"We think that with our style and game we can beat them, though. And that's what we are going to do tomorrow night," he said.
One thing the Italians have going for them is a history of facing host teams in big tournaments - though recent results haven't all been good.
At the 1998 World Cup, Italy lost to France on penalties in the quarterfinals. Two years later, the Azzurri beat the Netherlands on penalties in the semifinals of the European Championships. At the 2002 World Cup, they lost to South Korea on a golden goal.
Italy blamed the loss to South Korea on Ecuadorean referee Byron Moreno. Zambrotta is hoping Mexican referee Benito Archundia doesn't influence the outcome this time.
"I don't think the officiating will be uneven," he said.
Still, he echoed widespread criticism of the high number of yellow and red cards handed out this tournament.
"The officiating has been excessively harsh. Soccer is still a man's game and you can't try to remove the physical contact," Zambrotta said. "If these are the parameters maybe it would be better to expel a player after three yellow cards instead of two."
The Italians have focused on their play despite distractions including a match-fixing scandal back home. On Monday, a mini controversy swirled around allegations from Germans that the Italians had pushed FIFA to examine video evidence that led to the suspension of Germany midfielder Torsten Frings for punching an Argentina player in a post-match melee.
"We have to think about ourselves right now," midfielder Gennaro Gattuso said. "We can't allow ourselves to create controversy or lose energy thinking about the deeds of others. The environment is going to be tough for us, with 70,000 fans rooting for them."
As for Frings, he must sit out two matches - but one was suspended six months, meaning he could return for the finals if Germany wins.
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)