BORDEAUX • Germany's slow burn may be about to catch fire.
They have not reached the last four without anxieties about their place in the hierarchy of European football, and against Italy on Saturday in Bordeaux, they looked a good deal less calm than their coach Joachim Low.
Still, the Germans marched on.
Remember what happened the last time Low took Germany, not always smoothly, to the last four of a major tournament two years ago.
They promptly walloped hosts Brazil in the semi-final by 7-1, and went on to win the World Cup.
GERMAN SHOOT-OUT MACHINE
Germany's perfect penalty shoot-out streak, since Uli Stielike missed against France in the 1982 World Cup semi-finals, was broken by the second kicker Thomas Muller. Their five victims were England (6-5 at Euro 96), Mexico (4-1 at World Cup 86), England (4-3 at WC 1990), Argentina (4-2 at WC 2006) and Italy (6-5 at Euro 16).
Before Italy, this was Germany's miss rate (five out of 33 attempts) in seven shoot-outs. It shot up to 33 per cent (three of nine) against Italy.
Germany's last shoot-out defeat was by Czechoslovakia at the Euro 76 final - where Uli Hoeness sent his kick over before Antonin Panenka's famous penalty made it 5-3.
The world champions have been in redevelopment since Brazil after the retirement of several stalwarts. Still, despite the trepidation that hung over most of the 120 minutes of a taut 1-1 stalemate with Italy ahead of the low-quality, high-comedy penalty shootout (which they won 6-5), there were things for Germany and Low to feel satisfied about.
For instance, the winning penalty was struck by defender Jonas Hector, a player who has come to seniority in Low's laboratory since the World Cup. The 26-year-old looks like a very plausible solution to what had originally been a problematic position: left-back.
When he combined with Mario Gomez to set up Mesut Ozil's goal to put Germany ahead in the 65th minute, he looked even more compelling as a wing-back.
In a slow, plodding contest, full of tactical intrigue but low on incident, Germany again found a way to win.
That was after they appeared to suffer a temporary loss of identity, when Thomas Muller, Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger failed to score with three of their opening five attempts in the penalty shootout.
Muller's weak attempt to beat Gianluigi Buffon broke a run of 22 successful spot-kicks from Germany in shoot-outs.
Yet, what does it say about Germany's durability when they still found a way to eke out a win?
They extended their remarkable run of reaching the semi-finals, at least, in every major tournament since Euro 2004. And they finally beat Italy in a major tournament on the ninth attempt.
The disappointment for them is that central defender Mats Hummels will be suspended for the semi-final, midfielder Sami Khedira has a serious groin injury and Mario Gomez might also be a doubt.
Overall, though, they must feel exhilarated.
Even when they take bad penalties, they still win - and nobody should be surprised if they go on to win this tournament.
"From a fighter's point of view, it was amazing what the side did," said Low.
"The experienced players missed and the younger guys came through, so that's quite positive.
"If you want to criticise anything, sometimes we lost the ball too easily."
For Italy, it was a jarring way to go out, in the ninth round of the shootout. But their response after going a goal behind was a measure of their competitive courage.
The Italians played with great vigour and Jerome Boateng's handball as he competed with Giorgio Chiellini gave Leonardo Bonucci the chance to equalise from the penalty spot in the 78th minute.
The remarkable thing was that Bonucci had never taken a penalty before in his 11 years as a professional.
His penalty was the first goal Germany had conceded in the tournament but he could not repeat the trick in the shoot-out and it ended with a familiar sense of deja vu.
"It's a shame. When a team (Germany) miss three penalties out of five and you still don't manage to win, it becomes complicated," said Buffon, who was in tears after the defeat.
"Sometimes it goes your way, other times it doesn't. But that's all a big part of sport, and you have to accept it."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE