Forward Mario Balotelli scored two goals in the first half, lifting Italy to a 2-1 semifinal win over Germany on Thursday at the European championship in Warsaw.
You really never know what you’re going to get from Italy forward Mario Balotelli. He can display power, speed and athleticism that’s made him one of the best young players in the world, or will let emotions affect his game to the point where he’s ineffective.
Fortunately for the Italians, Balotelli showcased the former against Germany. The 21-year-old striker finished off a pair of fantastic first-half goals, leaving the Germans with a deficit they couldn’t overcome.
Italy continues to haunt Germany, which is now 0-4-4 against its rival at major international events, including the heartbreaking semifinal match on home soil at the 2006 World Cup.
Like their World Cup title six years ago, the Azzurri are thriving despite a match-fixing and betting scandal back home.
The loss was especially tough as it appeared Germany was the better side on paper, one that was younger, faster and deeper.
But all those attributes fly out the window whenever Germany faces the Italians — it always does.
After an initial charge by Germany, Italy stunned its foe with the opening goal in the 20th minute. Antonio Cassano was able to break free of Benedikt Howedes down the left wing, send a perfect cross to Balotelli, who headed the ball past goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.
Several minutes prior to Balotelli’s goal, midfielder Andrea Pirlo rescued Italy off a German corner as he blocked defender Mats Hummels’ shot by the goal-line that bounced back to goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Balotelli struck again in the 36th minute. The enigmatic forward found himself alone behind German defender Philipp Lahm, took a long ball pass from Riccardo Montolivo and unleashed a shot over a helpless Neuer.
With emotions filling through Balotelli, he celebrated by taking off his shirt to reveal a sculpted upper body. While the gesture earned him a yellow card, the goal broke Germany's resolve.
Overall the Germans had several chances throughout the game. The difference was Italy buried its opportunities.
Predictably, Germany began the second half on the attack. It came close in the 62nd minute to cutting the deficit in half, but Buffon’s leaping save denied Toni Kroos’s free kick.
Germany finally managed a goal in extra time as midfielder Mesut Ozil scored on a penalty kick after Italian defender Federico Balzaretti was called for a hand ball.
In the end, the Germans never could apply the skill that’s made them so formidable during the last four years.
It always seems to be the case against Italy.
What this result means
- In a rematch of the 1-1 draw in Group C, Italy moves on to face the defending European champion Spaniards in the final on Sunday. Italy is looking to win its first European title since 1968.
The winning goal
- Balotelli did a great job at getting to the right of German defender Holger Badstuber before converting his header behind Neuer.
Man of the match
- This magical performance has obviously elevated Balotelli’s status on the international stage. His three goals have him tied with four other players for the tournament lead. However, Balotelli remains the only player of the group still playing.
The Italilan perspective
- "This is the greatest night of my life, but I hope Sunday is going to be even better. In the opening matches I had a lot of chances, and I wasn't able to finish them. But In football you also need luck." — Italy forward Mario Balotelli, who also dedicated the two goal to his mother
The German perspective
- "It's a very bitter defeat. We tried everything in the second half but our goal came too late. We have so much potential in our team but if we cannot give the right performance at the right time or are not clever enough, then we lose such a game." — Germany captain Philipp Lahm