Euro 2012: Mario Balotelli stars in Italian job
Warsaw: A brilliant performance from Mario Balotelli has driven Italy into the Euro 2012 final, after a 2-1 win over Germany at the National Stadium in Warsaw on Thursday.
The Manchester City forward has hit the headlines for all the right reasons, opening the scoring with a powerful header before smashing home an emphatic second to clinch a date with Spain at the Olympic Stadium on July 1.
It was a deserved victory for Italy, who could have added further goals in the second half had they taken one of the numerous chances afforded to them by Germany`s rushes forward to find a way back into the match.
Mesut Ozil ensured a nervy finish to the encounter with a penalty in second-half stoppage time, but there was to be no miracle for Germany, who bowed out at the semi-final stage for the second major tournament in a row.
Joachim Low restored Mario Gomez and Toni Kroos to his starting XI after the Bayern Munich pair were benched for the quarter-final victory over Greece in the quarter-finals.
Cesare Prandelli made only one change from the side that eliminated England on penalties, with Giorgio Chiellini recovering from an injury in time to replace Ignazio Abate.
It was Germany who threatened first only six minutes in, after Mats Hummels’ scrambled shot was blocked on the line by Andrea Pirlo, allowing Gianluigi Buffon to smother.
The Azzurri skipper nearly forced an own goal moments later after inadvertently diverting a Jerome Boateng cross into Andrea Barzagli, but the deflection rolled just wide of the post.
Despite the scares at the back during the opening exchanges, Italy were quicker to settle into the match, and began to establish a rhythm with some patient play in midfield.
Riccardo Montolivo blasted into the arms of Manuel Neuer from the edge of the box, but the Germany keeper was forced to work much harder by Antonio Cassano, whose curler towards the bottom corner was tipped away.
Italy started to get into their stride, were asking growing questions of the suspect German defence. Then, with 20 minutes gone, the Azzurri carved them completely apart.
Chiellini fed Cassano on the overlap down the left, and the Milan forward delivered a superb cross into the heart of the area, where Balotelli rose above Holger Badstuber to head Italy into the lead.
Italy were buoyed by the goal, with Germany still unable to shake off the erratic edge to their play. Montolivo’s hesitation allowed Badstuber to strip him of possession deep inside the area, but the new Milan signing would make a far more decisive contribution with 36 minutes gone.
His searching ball over the top caught the German back line out completely and released Balotelli, who stormed towards goal and smashed an unstoppable finish high into the back of the net.
The Manchester City man was booked for ripping his shirt of in a passionate celebration, but there were no such signs of desire from Germany, who were showing none of the verve from their entertaining win over Greece in the previous round.
Low was facing an uphill battle to get his side back into the match, and responded in kind, hauling off Gomez and Lukas Podolski at half-time for Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose.