BORDEAUX, FRANCE >> Germany finally ended 54 years of hurt against Italy in major tournaments, winning a wild penalty shootout 6-5 to reach the semifinals of the European Championship on Saturday.
Jonas Hector scored the winning penalty in the quarterfinal match in Bordeaux with the 18th kick of the shootout, slotting beyond Gianluigi Buffon and putting Germany in the last four of a sixth straight tournament.
"I took my heart in my hand," said Hector, Germany's left back, "and just wanted to make sure it went in."
A cagey, tactical match between two of the continent's heavyweights finished 1-1 after extra time, with Leonardo Bonucci's 78th-minute penalty for Italy canceling out a 65th-minute strike by Mesut Ozil.
Bonucci was one of seven players to fail to score in the shootout — Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger blazed over when he could have sealed victory with the score at 2-2. But Hector made no mistake after Manuel Neuer's save from Matteo Darmian gave Germany another opening.
"I've never experienced a penalty shootout like it before," Neuer said.
It was Germany's sixth straight victory in a penalty shootout since losing the final of Euro 1976 to Czechoslovakia, and its first competitive win over Italy in nine tries. That included the 1982 World Cup final and three major tournament semifinals.
The so-called "Italian curse" is no more for the Germans, who are seeking to follow up their World Cup title from two years ago.
They will next play either France or Iceland in Marseille on Thursday.
Defeat ended Antonio Conte's two-year tenure with Italy and he heads to Chelsea in the English Premier League with a strong reputation after masterminding wins over highly fancied Belgium and Spain at Euro 2016.
"The only regret I have from this European Championship is these penalties," Conte said. "Nothing else; no regrets. These lads really showed everything."
One of his last acts as Italy coach was to embrace Darmian, who collapsed to the ground in despair after Hector's winning kick. The 38-year-old Buffon appeared to have tears in his eyes as he walked off the field.
It was a fixture worthy of the final itself — Italy and Germany are Europe's most successful football nations with eight World Cup titles between them — but the game didn't live up to its promise.
Dropping deep when not in possession, Italy's defensive set-up stifled the Germans — another tactical success for Conte — and made for a contest of few clear-cut chances until Ozil's goal.
Hector ran onto Mario Gomez's inside pass and sent over a cross that deflected right into the path of the inrushing Arsenal playmaker, who calmly steered the ball home.
It was the first time the Germans had breached Italy's famed back line all game, but they couldn't hold on and finally conceded a goal at the tournament to Bonucci, who slotted home his first ever penalty in regulation time after Jerome Boateng handled Giorgio Chiellini's flicked header.
Extra time passed without significant incident, meaning penalties for the second time in the quarterfinals — after Portugal beat Poland on Thursday.
As Germany, as ever, won the battle of nerves from the spot.