Warsaw: Germany defender Mats Hummels has urged his team-mates to keep a close eye on Italy`s three pivotal figures Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano in Thursday`s Euro 2012 semi-final clash.
The 23-year-old admitted that he did not foresee the Azzurri doing a great deal at the Euros before the tournament started, but conceded Cesare Prandelli`s men are proving him wrong now and look every bit as strong as Germany.
Hummels, who has already squared off against the likes of Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo at Euro 2012, believes that Italy`s two frontmen Balotelli and Cassano are among the best forwards in Poland and Ukraine.
"There is no doubt that they are top-class strikers,” Hummels said to the German FA`s official website.
“[They are] up in the same league as the likes of [Robin] van Persie, Nani, or [Cristiano] Ronaldo.”
“We’ll be prepared, approaching the game with the same concentration as always. We’re not afraid."
“We must play as intelligently as possible, with the whole team putting pressure on their creative midfielders, denying them the space they want, and preventing them from gaining the upper hand."
“We’ll be meeting an opponent who’s absolutely on a par with us in terms of everything. In fact, I think they were superior to Spain in their group match and just got better and better.
"I admit they did not figure in my personal top three, but now I know I was wrong.
“They strike a very good balance between offence and defence, and in midfielders [Riccardo] Montolivo, [Andrea] Pirlo, and [Daniele] De Rossi they have superb technicians who also track back and defend. Pirlo, especially, will be a key player to watch.
"I don’t expect the two nations’ history to have even the slightest effect on Thursday’s match. All it proves is that over time, Italy have always had an excellent team that’s hard to beat."
The Borussia Dortmund defender has had an impressive tournament for the Mannschaft and his confidence is sky-high, with much thanks owed to the praise of Hummels’ idol Zinedine Zidane, as well as a one-on-one with his coach.
"In a word – I’m on a roll, and I’m very happy to have been able to do my bit for the team’s success," Hummels said.
“There’s little more you could wish for at the moment. Joachim Low told me in a private talk that he’s very satisfied with the job I’ve been doing, and obviously that has worked wonders for my self-confidence.
“For Zidane to say he’s impressed – well, that’s the greatest compliment! He was my role model, I just loved to see him play, and I used to try and imitate his moves when I was young. I think he was by far the best footballer of his generation."