Germany 1-2 Italy: SuperMario sends Azzurri into Euro final
Germany 1: Ozil 90+1’
Italy 2: Balotelli 20’, 36’
Earlier this week, Mario Balotelli was asked by journalists why he doesn’t celebrate when he scores for Italy. In reply, the roguish striker allegedly said: “I'm doing my job. When a postman delivers letters, does he celebrate?" It’s an interesting and typically witty comment for him to make, but by the end of Thursday’s semi-final against Germany, Balotelli was the only man doing the delivering.
Rarely can it be said that the German football team didn’t have history on its side. But in seven matches between Germany and Balotelli’s Italy in international tournaments, the Germans had failed to register a single victory. Indeed, the disappointment of a late defeat to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup on home soil was still fresh in the memory of Joachim Löw and his decorated and much-complimented, but so far trophy-less, squad. Revenge was certainly a prevailing theme in the narrative of Euro 2012’s second semi-final.
Bastian Schweinsteiger, one of the players to suffer heartache in that Dortmund semi-final six years ago, passed a late fitness test to start for Löw’s side and he, along with his midfield team mates, was handed the unenviable task of cutting the strings of Italy’s refined puppet-master, Andrea Pirlo.
The introduction of Tony Kroos by Germany was also tilted towards dealing with the creative talents of Pirlo. But after 20 minutes, when Pirlo wasn’t closed down by Germany, he floated a magnificent pass to Antonio Cassano out on the left. Cassano’s pinpoint cross was met by the head of Balotelli who rose well above Holger Badstuber before letting out a scream of delight. The Italians were 1-0 up and the Germans, on top until that point, were shaken.
Anxiety seemed to consume Germany. Instead of exhibiting the slick, polished style which saw them reach the semi-finals, they looked rushed. It was the Italian front three who were setting the pulses racing; Balotelli was a dominant physical presence, constantly terrorizing Badstuber – who was living up to the first syllable of his surname. Cassano was busy and wily, dragging Mats Hummels out of position and Montolivio was revelling in the freedom he was enjoying in the centre of the park.
And the latter took advantage of more hesitant defending to set the brilliant Balotelli towards goal with nine minutes of the first half to play. With Lahm playing him onside, the Manchester City striker advanced to the edge of the box before smashing the ball into the back of the net, ripping off his shirt and posing with stern face in typical narcissistic manner. Thanks to some lax defending, the shell-shocked Germans were facing the prospect of history repeating itself.
Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose were introduced by Löw at half-time in a desperate attempt to get back into the game. But the Italians were already two goals in front – and experts at preserving such a lead.
After 70 minutes, impish Balotelli succumbed to what looked like cramp. He’d done his job; he even had time to crack a smile as he was greeted by Cesare Prandelli on the Italy bench. The Italians had done their job too – despite Mesut Ozil’s late penalty and a late German rally. They held on to their lead to prolong Germany’s woeful run against the Azzurri.
Spain wait in Sunday’s final. Should Balotelli deliver again, Italian journalists can expect further celebrations.
Germany (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Boateng (Muller 73’), Hummels, Badstuber, Lahm; Khedira, Schweinsteiger; Podolski (Reus 46’), Ozil, Kroos; Gomez (Klose 46’)
Italy (4-3-1-2): Buffon; Balzaretti, Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Pirlo, Marchisio, De Rossi; Montolivio (Motta 64’); Balotelli (Di Natale 70’), Cassano (Diamanti 58’)
Did you know…Philip Lahm played in his 14th European Championships match, surpassing the previous 13-game record held by Thomas Hassler.
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