Give Mario Balotelli the biggest stage of all and he’ll dwarf all around him with a performance of such might and magnitude that one has to consider that he could have genuine greatness within his reach. Forget Italy’s consistently robust defending, two irresistible assists and Andrea Pirlo’s typically controlled impact: tonight was Balotelli’s night.
In beating Germany in Warsaw this evening, Cesare Prandelli’s Italy were brilliant. They were deserving victors of one of the best games of the month and certainly have every chance of going one better than their 1-1 draw against Spain at the very beginning of the competition.
Germany 1-2 Italy (Semi-Final)
The second semi-final began encouragingly for the neutral observer and didn’t disappoint. At once cagey and frantic, the first fifteen minutes were shaded by Germany and Gigi Buffon had some early work to do – it wasn’t always done well. Italy were shaky at the back but bright going forward, and they did just that at every opportunity.
The breakthrough came from the head of Balotelli after less than 20 minutes. Antonio Cassano showed his strength and skill against Mats Hummels in the left channel and clipped a perfect cross in for a towering Balotelli, who easily beat Holger Badstuber in the air and powered his header past Manuel Neuer from close range.
His second was scintillating. The Germans were undone by the direct pass that caused England so many problems, and Balotelli found himself onside in miles of space in Germany’s half on the end of one from Riccardo Montolivo. He controlled, turned, kept his composure and smashed a wonderful strike from the edge of the box far beyond a rooted Neuer into the top corner. The match had been even between the two goals, with Germany seeking out an equaliser to no avail. Balotelli’s hammer blow was exactly what he deserved for a stellar first half performance.
Germany made a double substitution at half time and set about the search for a goal. One of those substitutes, Marco Reus, came close to scoring it on the hour. His free kick from 25 yards was well struck but turned onto the bar and over relatively comfortably by Buffon.
But beyond that point Germany were fried. Italy were in control and carved out a few opportunities to kill off the game, each of which was better than anything the Germans were able to generate at the other end. When the chances did come for Joachim Loew’s men they were needlessly wasted, giving the impression of a team who wouldn’t be able to turn the night in their favour. Italy were able to counter-attack at will, looking dangerous almost every time.
Substitute Antonio di Natale had the best chance with nine minutes to go and should have scored, and Italy had one correctly scrubbed off for offside a minute later. Germany were going for it and the gaps were there for all to see. At no point did Germany seem capable of scoring the two goals they needed, or even the first one to get them started. In fact, it’s slightly surprising that Italy didn’t get a third. But a handball by Federico Balzaretti in stoppage time gave Mesut Oezil the unexpected chance to make it 2-1 from the penalty spot, which he did with admirable composure.
The last two minutes of injury time saw Neuer winning headers as far forward as the wrong half of the centre circle but there would be no golden chance for the equaliser. Italy go on to Sunday’s Kiev final against Spain, and their major tournament domination over Germany continues.