GERMANY 1, ITALY 2
A first half double from Mario Balotelli stunned an expectant Germany and sent Italy into the final of Euro 2012 despite a second half fightback and what turned out to be an added time consolation penalty converted by Mesut Ozil.
The Germans have now failed to beat Italy in eight attempts at major tournaments and despite an extra two days rest seemed to treat the Italians with too much respect and allowed them to display the attacking edge promised by Cesare Prandelli.
Germany coach Joachim Loew’s selection of Mario Gomez, Toni Kroos and Lucas Podolski upfront failed to make the expected impact and the German midfield failed to close down Pirlo and therefore ceded initiative to Italy who were still able to accord their playmaker the freedom of midfield that exhausted England.
Even so, the Italian defence needed to brace itself against some early German attacks and Gianluigi Buffon wasn’t at his most convincing early on.
The German defence were even more static than the Italians, however, and individual mistakes led to a pair of chances that were taken by Balotelli who once again produced a strong performance that surprised the Germans with both ferocity and guile as the Manchester City striker moved into prime striking positions, beat the offside trap and terrorised his markers.
The Italian opening goal came after 20 minutes when Pirlo found Giorgio Chiellini on the left flank. The defender found Antonio Cassano further forward. Mats Hummels was sidestepped in the German defence far too easily and Cassano produced a cross that picked out Balotelli who rose above his marker to head home.
On 36 minutes, Sami Khedira almost levelled matters from a German corner but the resulting counter attack saw Riccardo Montolivo picking out Balotelli’s run from midfield which cut out two German defenders and comprehensively beat the offside trap. Balotelli controlled the ball, made room for himself and unleashed a rocket that roared past Manuel Neuer in the German goal giving him little time to react.
Balotelli earned himself a booking for taking his shirt off during his goal celebration but the Italian knew he had just given Italy a massive chance to beat Germany with his second goal.
Germany responded with a wholesale change of tactics at halftime, Marco Reus and Miroslav Klose came on and gave the Germans a more dynamic movement, but they came up against an Italian team determined to hold on to their lead and always capable of picking out the increasing number of holes left behind when the Germans went forward but they seemed to lack the extra spark that has carried them through most of their games during this tournament.
Cramp saw the end of Balotelli’s participation after 70 minutes but the balance of power in the match was leaning towards the Italians as the game drew to a close as the Germans continued to flounder against the rock that is Italians defending a lead.
Italy should have finished off the Germans as they committed more people to attack in the latter stages but were wasteful. Chances for Di Natale and Diamante came and went as Prandelli could only watch from the sidelines wishing that Italy would finish the game.
Germany finally pulled one back in injury time after Federico Balzaretti handled the ball – Mesut Ozil converted with a great penalty left footed into the right side of the net beyond Buffon – but it was to no avail and now Spain await the Italians in the final.