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Germany tries to figure out how to stop Pirlo
By NESHA STARCEVIC
GDANSK, Poland (AP) Miroslav Klose remembers how Andrea Pirlo broke German hearts with a pass that led to his team's elimination from the 2006 World Cup semifinals at home.
With two minutes remaining in extra time, Pirlo's pass found Fabio Grosso and he scored the first of a pair of late goals that meant Germany would be denied a shot at the title on home soil.
Instead, it was Italy that went on to clinch its fourth World Cup title over France.
"I remember well Pirlo's pass and Grosso's shot inside the far post," said Klose, who was by then on the bench, having been substituted.
Klose, who now plays in Italy for Lazio, said that German loss was too far back to still play a role when the two sides face each other again in the European Championship semifinals on Thursday in Warsaw.
"That was six years ago, we've had time to digest it," Klose said. "We both have some players remaining but we are both different sides now."
Pirlo, though, seems just as effective.
The Germans are eager to break a jinx - they have never beaten Italy in a major tournament in seven attempts - and the key to that will be stopping the playmaker from delivering the decisive passes or scoring himself.
At 33, Pirlo has proved time and again that he is still in his prime. He led Juventus to an undefeated Serie A season and the Italian title last month, a year after AC Milan gave up on him.
In all, Pirlo hasn't lost a Serie A match since Dec. 18, 2010, having also gone the second half of the 2010-11 season undefeated with Milan. With him in charge, Italy is also undefeated in competitive matches over the past two years - having compiled 10 wins and four draws since its first-round exit from the 2010 World Cup.
"I'm nearly at the end of my career. I might not experience the emotions of matches like this anymore, so I want to fully enjoy it," Pirlo said Tuesday in Krakow, the Italian base.
He said Italy's players have studied footage of Germany's matches and are aware that Mesut Oezil is the focus of the Germans' play.
"Italy is strong in all areas, just like they are," Pirlo said. "It's going to be a great semifinal. We've got to try and take possession of the ball, even though that's one of their characteristics too."
In the quarterfinals against England, Pirlo created chances that his teammates could not convert, then chipped an audacious soft shot from the penalty spot even as the Italians were behind in the shootout.
Germany goalkeeping coach Andreas Koepke called it "cheeky."
"Pirlo is going through something like a renaissance, some people may have thought he was over the hill," Germany coach Joachim Loew said. "He's a genius strategist. He plays the ball where it hurts the opponent. We'll talk to our players, give them some jobs to stop him."
Pirlo is likely to be confronted often by Sami Khedira, Real Madrid's physical defensive midfielder. Bastian Schweinsteiger should also have a role in harassing the Italian "midfield maestro," although the German is playing on a tender right ankle.
"We know where the Italian weaknesses are," Loew said, "and we'll try to take advantage."
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf reported from Krakow.
Updated June 26, 2012