Bad boy Mario Balotelli was as good as gold for Italy tonight, scoring twice to send the Azzurri on to Sundays Euro Final versus Spain. Germany were favored coming into this match, despite never having defeated Italy in a Euro or World Cup match.
German coach Joakim Loew put himself in line for criticism if things didn’t go Germany’s way, tinkering with his lineup once again. Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez were reinstated, while Toni Kroos was somewhat of a surprise starter.
Germany were the better team in the early going, and were nearly gifted a goal on an uncharacteristic error by Gigi Buffon. The veteran Italian keeper went to ground to play Jerome Boateng’s shot/cross in the tenth minute, only to bobble the routine play. The ball bounced off an Italian defender caroming just wide.
Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo tested German keeper Manuel Neuer with a 17th minute shot that the German keeper did well to save. Italy were coming more and more into the match now as Antonio Cassano brought another good save from Neuer.
Then in the 20th minute Italy struck via Balotelli. A good passing movement from Pirlo to Chiellini came to Cassano, who neatly turned his marker, Hummels, before teeing up a perfect cross for Balotelli to power home from close range.
Germany responded well to Italy’s challenge getting the better of the chances over the following ten minutes. Their best chance came on a wicked volley off the boot of Sami Khedira that Buffon did very well to save.
Buffon’s save produced a German corner that Italy dealt with. The clearance came to Montolivo who sent along pass for Balotelli to run onto behind the German defense. Mario truly was super as he controlled the ball and blasted an untouchable shot past Neuer.
It was a remarkable goal from the mercurial Balotelli, who showed his immaturity by whipping off his jersey to pick up an automatic yellow card.
Germany had one last chance before the half, but Podolski didn’t pull the trigger, trying instead to control Mezut Ozil’s pass, only to see the ball trickle out for a goal kick.
Loew tinkered some more at the break sending Miroslav Klose and Marco Reus into the fray at the expense of Gomez and Podolski. Reus made an immediate splash with a snaky run through the Italian defense that ended with a weak shot that Buffon easily saved.
German captain Philip Lahm doesn’t often score goals, but the left back seems to save them for the big occasion. So it was bit of surprise when Loew finished a nice one-two with Kroos by blasting high when he should have scored.
Germany were gaining a foothold on the right wing, with Reus, Khedira, Ozil, and Boateng raiding down Italy’s left flank. As in the first half Germany were creating chances but Italy stood firm. Centerback Leanardo Bonucci took the ball off the foot of Klose to snuff out one chance, while Balotelli nearly completed a hat-trick at the other end. Balootelli faked Lahm to the turf only to curl his shot wide of Neuer’s goal.
The Italians were a composed team in the face of German pressure, and as the desperate German’s threw more and more men forward they left space for Italy to exploit. Only poor finishing kept Italy from adding to their lead.
Finally in added time Germany got their chance when a Khedira header bounced up and hit Balzaretti in the hand. Ozil neatly dispatched his chance setting up a frantic final two minutes of added time.
German keeper Neuer parked himself in the Italian half of the field, at one point keeping the ball for his side with a diving header. But the goal came too late for Germany and their Italian hex continues.
Germany were the pick of many, myself included to end Spain’s reign, but they went out tonight to a deserving Italy. Cesare Prandelli has done a magnificent job at these Euro’s, getting the best out of his team while battling injuries. Spain meanwhile, has looked ripe for the plucking throughout this tournament.
Can Italy prevent Spain from becoming the first nation to win three majors in a row? I think they can.